Opera House, Malmö
December 7, 2019
Requiem, the traditional mass for the departed is generally approached with solemnity and sober dress. However, in Örjan Andersson’s production of Mozart’s Requiem, the curtain rises on a stage of dazzling white steps peopled by singers and dancers in colourful everyday clothes. In a world where the fear of eternal damnation and hopes of life everlasting have receded, many of the anchor points, the rituals marking life and death, have less import and here Andersson expounds the cycle of life with humanist eyes.
Without the religious canon of meaning, Andersson needs to devise new rituals and at times the choices seem arbitrary as in the Christ-like figure, bare chested and arms outstretched, weighed down with the dancers’ clothes as they strip off and drape him in T-shirts and dresses. The semi-nude dancers then weave into tight huddles before raising one of their number aloft and carrying them across the stage leaving the last dancer draped on the stairs, like a broken body taken down from the cross.
Much of the movement is pedestrian as singers and dancers are integrated moving in regular patterns up and down the steps or joining forces to work together in simple patterns. However, there is full-on dance in the attention-grabbing duet from Jing Yi Wang (王婧怡) and Yiorgos Pelagias, a striking partnership of courageous off-centre contact. Emma Välimäki, was another outstanding performer, her strong features and formidable movement quality made compulsive viewing whether in the centre of a group or dancing solo.
The performers, all barefoot and in casual dress, celebrate an inclusivity of sizes and ages. There is an amazing spirit generated by this melding of dance, song and music and Andersson makes use of this to bring gravitas to the understated closing stages. A solitary man, a solid figure in black conducts a change in ambience, as he signals for the lights to be lowered, then turns them to the audience. When the lights retreat, the bare stage gives space for a rough and tumble duet from Emma Välimäki and Kristian Refslund. For a while the darkened steps seem more like a barrier than a pathway, before the lights brighten and dancers, soloists and chorus ascend the stairs to calmly step into the void beyond and disappear from view. They may not be attaining their moment of eternal rest promised in the confident theology of Mozart’s time but it’s a simple and effective device that brings contemporary closure.