Zikzira Physical Theatre: Sea Without Shore

Posted: April 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Zikzira Physical Theatre: Sea Without Shore, Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, London, March 19

Lívia Rangel and Fernanda Lippi in the film Sea Without Shore

Lívia Rangel and Fernanda Lippi in the film Sea Without Shore

The term ‘dance on film’ can conjure up banks of onstage cameras, screens, computers, technical wizardry and animation in which dance and technology interact like self-conscious collaborators, but here is a dance film on a cinematic scale that simply eschews dialogue for movement. Sea Without Shore is the second film of director André Semenza and choreographer/dancer Fernanda Lippi; the first was Ashes of God. Both films have a fluid narrative driven by intricate direction, superb camera work, fine performances, sensitive scores and breathtaking locations. None of the action takes place on a stage — the stage is the screen — but in countryside or in buildings with an air of abandon or infused with the dying breath of a bygone era. Sea Without Shore is set in rural Sweden, in a summerhouse on a small island built by a wealthy 19th century publisher. The scenery is romantic, remote and ideally suited to the nature of solitude, love and death of which the film speaks. ‘Dissolving under the impact of the loss of her soul mate, a woman is drawn by unknown forces into the depth of mid-winter forests, into spheres of her subconscious.’ While there is no dialogue, Sea Without Shore is not a silent film; it has a score composed by The Hafler Trio (aka Andrew M. McKenzie) threaded with Chopin nocturnes, Parisian accordion and a Swedish folk dance band, and there are two narrators who recite lines of sapphic verse like a stream of consciousness from the 17th century poet Katherine Philips and the fin-de-siècle poets Renée Vivien and Algernon Charles Swinburne. In the version I saw, the narrators recite these fragments in Swedish over English subtitles but the images are so strong and contain within them such poignant clues to the story there is barely any need for the subtitles, even if you don’t understand Swedish. The poetry — and the way it is read by Lippi and Marcela Rosas — adds an ethereal, otherworldly dimension.

As soon as we see the opening image of dense green forest it is clear there is someone with an extraordinary eye behind the camera. Marcus Waterloo is not simply behind the camera but very much immersed in the countryside and in the lives of the film’s characters. His camera work is an integral element of Lippi’s choreography and Semenza’s direction; we see everything through his eye and his eye sees everything through the prism of the poetry. It is this depth of integration between all the film’s elements that makes Sea Without Shore so rich.

“Till the secret be secret no more” is the opening line of the film, taken from Swinburne’s Triads, that opens us to the sense of space and loneliness, of love and loss, of a mysterious beauty within a beauty that is all around. Sea Without Shore, like its title, has no clear boundary; it’s primary narrative is the relationship between two women whom we first see (but do not hear) conversing intimately on an elegant turn-of-the-century sofa that has seen better days. This initial image is suffused with the suggestion of life and decay, ease and dis-ease, love and death, light and dark, past and present that emerge and recede throughout the film: the two warm-blooded horses trudging through the snow with the bodies of two women draped over their backs; Lívia Rangel’s faded, fraying dress that matches the brocade wallpaper against which she stands, and Lippi and Rangel floating head to foot fully dressed in the water, like two Ophelias.

The images carry the film forward and back like horizontal time but there are several choreographed soliloquies in which the power of dance drills down into the consciousness of the individual. In her choreography Lippi focuses on the torso, on the emotional core of the body; Rangel is eloquent even when her movement is understated or still and Waterloo knows precisely when to close in or to keep his distance, as if he were part of her inner dialogue. There is a memorable, dark duet in the woods in which Rangel and Anna Mesquita af Sillén work themselves into a trance of grief.

Sea Without Shore is created in such a way that the sense of impending crisis is never far away; the film doesn’t build in a narrative way but instead adds layers of intensity upon images of ethereal beauty to the point of exquisite pain. If death is a release, it is where the poetry, the images, the dance and the music resolve in Rangel’s final, fateful decision. Sea Without Shore raises the level of dance on film to dance as film. Shot in luscious CinemaScope, it is a production that is best experienced in an intimate, comfortable cinema. There are still opportunities to see it in this way; just check venues, dates and times on the Sea Without Shore Facebook page.