Guest Blog: Nikhil Vyas on Progress

In this blog post, Nikhil Vyas of Trip Hazards Theatre explores what Dance Dance Revolution can reveal about the nature of friendship. 

Progress is on Thur 10 – Sat 12 Oct at 7:15 and 5:00pm. Click here for tickets.

The starting point for Progress was the feeling of failure- of the perpetual anxiety and misery that
has spread like a pandemic amongst young people in contemporary society- and of wanting to make
something that in some way embodied or expressed this.

But a lot of the thinking and discussion in our early rehearsals seemed to gravitate towards
friendship. I think part of the architecture of this show is about how Jasmine and I, who have been
friends for some years, have changed since we met at university, and how the rest of our friends
have changed. And how maybe the meaning of friendship itself changes as you grow older, as the
systems and values that a group of friends grow up with begin to change.
So why Dance Dance Revolution???

DDR, for those who aren’t familiar, is a dance-based arcade game, created by Konami in 1998. By the
beginning of the millennium, it had become one of the most popular games across the arcade-
playing world. Significantly, none of the game’s designers had any dance training whatsoever.
When we began unpicking it, the game offers a number of mechanics that seemed to be particularly
ripe fruits of performativity. The game requires you to stamp your feet in time with on-screen
arrows, set to a digitally processed beat. If you miss, or step out of time, you lose points. It’s a high
adrenaline, highly physical, highly addictive game. And it’s competitive. Specifically within Progress,
we play at different difficulties, from Beginner to Expert, exploring what happens when we win this
game, and when we lose.

And it’s a strangely potent metaphor in thinking about how we grow into the worlds of late
capitalism- a system which dresses itself up with bright lights and pretty colours and which seduces
its participants with an illusion of success, but which is built on unwavering demands of obedience,
rigour and rectitude. DDR doesn’t have a Handicap mode. It isn’t a qualitative game. It doesn’t
account for an individual’s personality or history or anything like that. It doesn’t care too much about
any of those things. It just wants you to stay in time with the beat.

All the serious theory stuff aside, DDR also allowed us to build a show around dance, and dancing,
for non-dancers. A show which would allow us to reveal the ways in which bodies slip, tumble,
sweat, misbehave, and most importantly work together to make a bigger thing happen. Jasmine and
I have totally different histories around dance, but we love watching it, we love doing it, and we love
the freedom of being able to unashamedly put our very unique dancing identities centre stage. And
for a show which takes friendship as one of its primary interrogations, it was important for us to
make something that captures the texture of friendship. Something that quite specifically tries to
express the feeling of moving with someone you care about.

Our run of performances at Camden People’s Theatre might be the start of a beautiful, highly
successful collaboration. It might be that one of us gets spotted and signed on the spot for a job at
the Royal Ballet. It may be the Konami sponsor us to make shows inspired us by every last one of
their games. Or maybe it will be the last time we make something together. We don’t really know.
All we know now is that when the future is an ever growing question mark, there are worse things to
do than dance.