TaikaBox: Beyond the Body

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

TaikaBox: Beyond the Body, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, November 28

photo: Michal Iwanowski

photo: Michal Iwanowski

Taika is a Finnish word for magic. So TaikaBox is a magic box, which is the nature of a theatre. In the evening’s program there is a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ In the context of Taikabox, that could describe an evening at the theatre. There is also a quote from Bruce Lee: ‘The intangible represents the real power of the universe – it is the seed of the tangible.’ If we substitute ‘theatre’ for ‘universe’, we arrive at the same proposition: what we see on stage (the tangible) is our human response to what is invisible (intangible), but we can only express this if we are spiritual beings to begin with.

This brings us to the starting point of choreographer Tania Råmon and designer John Collingswood’s Beyond the Body: the nature of spirituality itself, or what makes a human being. As anyone who reads the company blog will realise, the creative process includes a veritable smorgasbord of inputs, from Kabbalistic mysticism, Qigong, Carnival and running to meditation, states of consciousness and the use of neurological perceptions. We don’t see any of this, of course, but some of it nevertheless finds expression — perhaps a little too literally at times — on stage. As we walk into the auditorium there are five dancers dressed in beautifully designed, loose clothing (by Neil Davies) seated in the lotus position on a white stage. The two musicians are just visible in the wings and there is a perfume of incense in the air. This is no ordinary performance; it is an arresting — and perhaps even uncomfortable — image for those expecting an evening of dance, but it underlines the inside-out nature of Beyond the Body: it is concerned less with formal questions of performance than it is with exploring what produces the formal solutions.

It is when the dancers move that the magic begins, as it is the movement that triggers the painting of light that Collingswood has developed into a visual dance language. A projection of light falls on Daisy Natale as she sits in meditation, then on Karol Cysewski and the other three in turn. The arms of the dancers then set their torsos in motion, and the projection of light expands with them like a painted aura as they rise and move until the light around each dancer merges into that of the others like splashed white paint and the entire stage seems to respond to each and every movement providing a beautifully diffused illumination. Collingswood is clearly in his element here, experimenting with light as an extension of the moving body. During the performance, he uses his imagination and technical wizardry to conjure up energy fields, transform the stage into clouds, trace the flight of a single gull until its path fills the space, and link smoke or ink-inspired patterns and shadows to the movement of the dancers. It is the lighting that closes the gap between technology and dance, but which at times has a tendency, because of its novelty, to attract attention to itself: the images of smoke are beautiful in themselves but tend to overpower the stage action and when a mandala is projected down on to the dancers its spiritual significance is reduced to an illustrative pattern. We are on the borderline of digital art and stage dance; it seems with a little further push in this direction, there will be no dancer but a projected kinesthetic image. Interestingly, one section of Beyond the Body is a choreographic essay of Collingswood’s lighting imagery to live music (by Eyebrow, comprising Paul Wigens on drums, percussion and electronics and Pete Judge on trumpet and electronics).

So what about the dancers? That Råmon has been able to harmonise a diverse group in such a short time is not simply the fortuitous outcome of an audition process. Råmon has built into the creative process a seven-week preparatory period for the dancers prior to the production period in order, as she writes in the program, ‘to improve (the dancers’) physical potential in the creative process and to reduce the risk of injury.’ Apart from working as a choreographer, Råmon is a consultant in dance science and a cranio-sacral therapist, both of which inform this caring and holistic approach to resolving the challenge of bringing freelance dancers together for a short burst of creativity, and it shows. Each dancer brings his or her exceptional qualities to the stage, but the harmony of their interaction in Råmon’s choreography is tangible.

Since Beyond the Body is an investigation into what makes us human, there is not so much a narrative as a series of episodes based on the qualities of each dancer. Karol Cysewski is The Wanderer, Tilly Webber The Seeker, Noora Kela The Shaman, Daisy Natale The Runner, and Hal Smith is The Creator. From the opening, breathing calm, each dances out his or her respective qualities enhanced by Collingswood’s visual design. The dancers are centred, concentrated, focusing on internal process rather than out into the audience. Noora Kela dances a duet with her disembodied shadow projected on to a filmed forest backdrop (by Collingswood and Bill Mitchell) that reminds me of David Hockney’s giant screen experiments; it is as if we are in the forest, and Kela performs on the forest floor stepping carefully through the leaves as the light filters through the branches. During her dance, the other four enter at each of the four corners of the stage, hemming her in: overtones of the Chosen One, but she is left alone in the darkening forest, rolling over to start a second solo that is angular and seems to stretch in all directions. There is a lightness and clarity to her dancing, which is a pleasure to watch.

In the next episode, Natale is followed on stage by a shadow of smoke, or a projected ink pattern that seems tied to her feet. Natale has a lovely fluidity of movement and ecstatic poses. Cysewski follows, projecting less of The Wanderer here and more of an enforcer, prone to sudden spurts of movement — almost violent —that appear to control Natale. Smith embodies the calmness and majesty of the Creator as he sits in meditation alone, eyes closed, with very slow arm gestures. Drops of light fall on him and flow away. He moves through the state of calmness to intense trembling when the drops of light increase exponentially as if energy is emanating from his core being. The quartet arrives like a chorus from which Webber detaches herself, dancing expressively with softness rather than angularity. She melts to the ground in fourth position, then stands, turns and sways, generating ripples of light that become the projected mandala. She walks around the rim of the mandala, then to the centre where she starts an energetic finale to drum accompaniment. Natale joins in with swirling arms, then Cysewski and Kela. Smith walks to the centre with one hand on top of the other as if holding something precious. Once inside the mandala, however, the movement phrases owe more to disco than to the esoteric. Smoke is projected, the mandala turns as the dancers pump up the energy, expanding, jumping and turning in a visually rich painting of light and movement before the dancers finally come to rest as the ripples of light expand in the silence and the dark.

There is clearly more than meets the eye in Beyond the Body; the creators and dancers have entered this inside-out creativity and produced a work that opens up new ground. It is based on the dancers — their spiritual and physical wellbeing — rather than on building up a formal performance. It is thus a work about the process, and if on the way it becomes a tad self-conscious there is also at times a powerful symbiosis between concept, movement and lighting that makes the creative journey rich and fruitful.