March 16, 2021
Due to premiere in mid-March 2020, Dance Theatre Heidelberg’s Momentum triple bill was an early casualty of Germany’s first lockdown. The programme features two works by emerging choreographers: Taiwanese company dancer Lo Yi-wei (駱宜蔚), and Dutch dancer-choreographer Astrid Boons, either side of artistic director Iván Pérez’s own Kick the Bucket. Fortunately, the works had all been fully rehearsed and filmed on stage before theatres went dark, allowing them to be shared now.
Lo’s Chinese titled trio 众-III [zhòng] (众 translates as ‘many’ or ‘numerous’) features various relationships between dancers Inés Belda Nácher, Orla McCarthy and Andrea Muelas Blanco, and a set comprised of multiple tubes of various lengths that are formed into structures that are assembled and disassembled, and used individually as props. While a dance of interesting ideas and images, I got little sense of the cast questioning their own identity and how they are seen by others, as suggested by the programme note, however.
The opening presents a shifting mass of tangled bodies, limbs entwined, that makes its way smoothly across the stage. A touch of edginess comes from Tsai Hsiang-chun’s soundscape that mixes a hint of throbbing industrial machinery with crackling white noise. But, and not for the only time in the work, it is rather reminiscent of an improvisation exercise.
Once standing, Lo paints unusual pictures with the trio, who form up and dance looking for all the world like a strange two-headed, four-armed, six-legged being. It is simultaneously weird and oddly fascinating, although most appealing is a solo for Nácher who tosses and turns in slow motion as if buffeted by some unseen force.
Rather clearer is Pérez’s Kick the Bucket, a previous version of which was seen in London in 2017 when performed by ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble. It is beautifully danced by Lo and Su Kuan-ying (蘇冠穎) who show remarkable connection and understanding in their fluid partnering, even allowing for the fact that they previously danced together with Dance Forum Taipei (舞蹈空間舞團).
There’s no story, it’s more like a series of snapshots, or moments in time in the relationship. Periods of softness and sensitivity coexist with bursts of aggression. It feels like a play for power, like a couple both trying to assert themselves, but equally both needing the support and protection of the other.
Boons’ new work Crash is an intense physical and psychological exploration of the consequences of sensory overload. Right from the beginning, as the cast of seven shift restlessly on the floor, there is a sense of an overbearing weight. There is a strong feeling of them being pressed down. Bodies are tense, a feeling added magnified by Miguelángel Clerc Parada’s increasingly loud and throbbing soundscape. The dancers writhe. When they do try to rise, they are forced back down again. Limbs stretch, flex and struggle. Are they in a battle with themselves or some unseen force? Or perhaps, most likely, both?
Somehow, they later come together in a pile of bodies, before things get a little more poetic in a slower section. Even here, though, that feeling of the performers inhabiting a dark, moody, uncomfortable physical and psychological world remains. They appear almost numb, together physically but alone in other ways: fragile bodies and fragile minds in a very uncertain place. There is more a sense of support in a duet between Blanco and Arno Brys towards the end, and even perhaps of hope, but even here it takes a long time for the couple to find peace.
Dance Theatre Heidelberg are clearly a fine ensemble; one very much suited to this sort of dark and deeply felt choreography. I would certainly like to catch up with again sometime (and at home in their beautiful city), but maybe in something a little lighter too.
Momentum is being streamed free again on March 20, 2021 at 7pm (UK). Visit www.theaterheidelberg.de for details.