afternoon dust

dance & aesthetics, mostly

Look me in the mirror and tell me you’re happy

Resolution! 2011: De Preter & Svensson, Inverted Dance, Hagit Yakira
The Place, London
Friday 18th February 2011

Ulrika Kinn Svensson and Koen De Preter

Ulrika Kinn Svensson and Koen De Preter

Happiness. Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of a moment, either extraordinary or mundane – swimming in the sea, dancing in a club, even watching a ballet – and you’re hit by the realisation that you’re happy. Time shifts down a gear, slows to a crawl, as if your body was trying to make this moment last as long as possible, to squeeze every last drop out each and every movement, sound, and image. At times like these you understand why you’re always rushing to keep up with the world as it flashes by, unable to pause, to let things be for a while. It’s because most of the time, happiness seems fugitive.

Sometimes it’s there, a dance choreographed and performed by Koen De Preter and Ulrika Kinn Svensson, is full of those little moments of bliss, of beauty and the sublime. What passes in a flash is here represented in drawn-out sequences of slow repeated movements, underscoring the fleetingness of such experiences but also their significance, our wish that they would last forever. This emphasis on the transient sits uncomfortably with a spoken text suggesting in optimistic and occasionally mawkish terms that happiness is an enduring state of mind, an ongoing project of “letting go”. We see two sides to happiness: a sudden unexpected sensation of joy and desire, and a lasting attitude and mindset. De Preter and Svensson probe both these aspects, and the exchanges between them, in a performance both humourous and moving. Strangely enough, it is the maintenance of a certain frame of mind described by the text that comes across as the more active and empowering of the two notions. And who wouldn’t want to be a little more happy?

The structure of Hagit Yakira’s Sunday Morning bears some similarities to that of De Preter and Svensson’s work, in that you have to watch the whole piece in order for motifs introduced near the beginning to make sense. Sunday Morning is about memory, but it is far from a romanticised wallow in nostalgia. Instead, Yakira uses moments of confusion, uncertainty and violence to raise challenging questions about our most intimate memories of family and childhood, the recollections most central to our sense of self and our understanding of the world. In this she brought to mind Yasmeen Godder’s seminal I’m Mean, I Am, another visceral take on domestic relationships, but Yakira develops these themes in her own intelligent and often witty style. I thought it was brilliant, but then again I’m biased: the next performance of Sunday Morning will be at The Gulbenkian in Canterbury on Thursday 3rd March, in an event produced by yours truly!

Both dances discussed so far are made better by some excellent dramaturgy (from Yarit Dor and Lou Cope and Annette van Zwoll, respectively), helping to give shape and clarity to the choreographers’ ideas. Inverted Dance’s It started at the end could benefit from such dramaturgical assistance. The dance claims to use a “reordered time sequence” (perhaps in the manner of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams?) to tell the story of the rude interruption of a couple’s evening. Although I could pick out the couple in question, I was lost as to the identity of their unexpected guests, their motives for trying to separate the couple, and the reason for their eventual departure. I did see some acrobatic moves though, and quite how the dancers managed to leap, flip and slide around without ever colliding with each other or the furniture is one of those impressive displays of showmanship that has long been integral to theatre.

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