Fleur Darkin’s latest offering, Miann, premiered at the Fringe last year as part of the Made in Scotland curated showcase. This work certainly achieves Darkin’s desire to remind us that “life is felt before it is understood”. Pulsating with sensory impressions, the dancers (the full company plus guest dancers, James Southward and Quang Kien Van) whirl and weave around the space encircled by crackling willow wands, and illuminated by a stark white light pooling around a central chain curtain.
Miann is a collaboration between Darkin, designer Alexander Ruth and the The One Ensemble, a Glasgow based jazz/folk group. This is an already tested combination since Darkin worked with them last year to create Human Scale. The title of this latest piece comes from Scottish Gaelic, meaning longing or desire. This is explored in a multiplicity of ways, physical, sexual and spiritual. In the opening sequence a lone dancer (Amy Hollinshead) is caught in a frenzy of jumping as if trying to rid herself of some unspecified anguish. Joined by a lone male (Francesco Ferrari), they gradually, tentatively connect and are in turn joined by the remaining dancers. The sections that follow–melancholy solos, intimate duets and tribal ensemble pieces—are held together by an atavistic impulse which invites us to reflect on both how we connect and how we let go.
Miann is grounded in the landscape of Scotland: the forests, beaches, peat bogs and ancient stones. The impetus for this piece came from Darkin’s time spent on Lewis, specifically at the Callanish Stones, Bronze Age standing stones on the west coast. The natural world is vividly invoked through the staging. The dancers, muddied by the earth, roll and scuttle crab-like across the stage. I was reminded of Eliot’s Prufrock yearning for a simple life of instinct alone : “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas”. Perhaps Miann is also following such an impulse. Darkin wants us to “get lost in the landscape with no story, no orientation points, only beckoning paths”. This is embodied in the dance where the dancers literally peel back the surface of space to connect with the earth beneath. The chain curtain is a mutable totem, shifting in significance within the performance space suggesting: a sail, a stone, a door and eventually a shrine.
The use of music and voice are integral to the work. The instruments and words act as a colloquy sometimes leading, sometimes embellishing the movement. The use of the cello is innovative, at times producing lush melodies, at others, long eerie notes and breathy rasps. Towards the end of the piece the musicians move into the dance space playing their accordions–their bellows mirroring the breath of the dancers.
Darkin has established herself as an “overtly theatrical choreographer” and Miann certainly delivers an intense and absorbing theatrical experience. For me, the strength of the piece is in the taut technique and muscular energy of the dancers. If you missed it this time you can catch up with Miann at the Tramway, Glasgow in May.