For sedentary types, watching dancers as bodies in motion is to make contact again with the dream of air and speed: the quickness of lives unbounded by the terrestrial. And so it was Friday night when the Scottish Dance Theatre transformed a bare, whitened stage space at the Dundee Rep into a quicksilver blur of energy, movement and colour in the inaugural performance of Anton Lachky’s Dreamers.
Lachky, the Belgium-based Slovak choreographer, was commissioned to create a new dance performance – bringing his own brand of physicality (in the programme notes) to “turn” the company’s dancers “inside out in pursuit of body complexity, speed”. Something of that “raw energy of improvisation” from the initial workshops, and the insights they offered of the dancers’ physical personalities,transferred entertainingly and satisfyingly into the finished creation. Dreamers, for me, became a narrative of competitive performative bravau, comically framed.
Contemporary dance, sometimes somewhat stylised, impersonal and abstract can also be challenging to interpret and access. But the comedic patterns enacted by dance segments in Dreamers seem to act as a humorous meta-commentary on the compositional process itself. At the start, the stage was lit to reveal a straight line of dancers dressed in smart but ordinary clothes, albeit in vibrant block colours. Individuals broke from this chorus line to undertake highly physical short routines before passing the baton to others, who also danced their own solos. The high octane routines and the physical plasticity of their bodies are a revelation. The stage emptied, leaving two female dancers, one short and dressed in white (Audrey Rogero) and the other tall and in a loud red blouse (Aya Steigman), next to each other. In this segment, they remained more or less where they were positioned. In a performative equivalent of two-hander silent slapstick comedies, Steigman danced earnestly, flexing her body to music; Rogero, bodily passive but with an incredible plasticity of facial contortion, played to the gallery. Rogero grimaced, sneered, rolled her eyes in disbelief, collapsed or stretched her face into almost cartoon-like dismissals of Steigman’s movements. Rogero’s dramatic presence extended throughout the evening’s performance as a whole, earning audience laughter and approbation, notably in the tentative, coy and self-parodic later encounter with three male dancers stage left, and in the obsequious (again parodic) back-slapping affirmations of another’s commands. The latter, a choreographer-like character, played in turns by different individuals, controlled the dancers’ movements and postures spectacularly by the snap of fingers, a clap; he also waved a following cohort of figures back or forwards. Sometimes the character was more drill-sergeant as troops whose skyward turned heads avoided eye contact were inspected; sometimes, and more humorously, not quite believing his luck – dancers actually obeyed him – shoulders are shrugged and hands flexed, and commands barked out in exaggerated The Sims gibberish (Francesco Ferrari). Other times, as the choreographer-in-charge, performative insubordinations were stopped in their tracks.
Dreamers was paired with a rerun of Jo Stromgren’s Winter, Again, scheduled before the interval. Winter, Again was reviewed in DURA in the spring of last year. The literary tropes and symbols remain: snow, dead birds, pistol shots, the bloodied blindfold, the bloody eyeballs, the dead animals, the crossbow. Yet Friday’s performance was perhaps more comedic than fabular, and the whitened stage seemed even more minimalistic. The suggestive voice-over on guilt, remorse (or its lack), anxiety, the seasonal cycle, the coming of spring remain, but the earnestness of the original was, perhaps, figured more as over-earnestness: mourned-for fallen birds were dropped dramatically, desperately revived, kicked around or booted into the long grass. The links between the violator and the violated were also handled more playfully than I remembered: stalkers of various kinds prowled in cartoon-like fashion; a small toy rabbit grazed and hopped; the carcass of a large deer dragged and hidden by a dancer; animal movements mimicked in gesture and behaviour by other dancers. These were all, of course, in the original but the tone has changed. If the revelation of the contents of the bucket catching the drips of thawing snow was just as shocking, the performance’s ending seemed more muted.
Comedy is, of course, a crowd pleaser, especially for those in the audience for whom dance performance outings are infrequent. But Dreamers is exuberant and joyous, and the music and dance performances skilfully put together… even if I can’t be certain of the narrative logic of my own interpretation (which, incidentally, isn’t remotely hinted at in the programme notes). While I missed the ambivalence of both menace and comedy in the original staging of Winter, Again, the night as a whole reminded me that this is dance theatre, and not to be afraid of making more visits. It also reminds me of how lucky we are to have the company resident in Dundee.