Dans i Nord Festival

Christina Hall, Piteå, Sweden
September 21 & 22, 2018

Maggie Foyer

In the north of Sweden there is space – lots of it – with only small pockets of population. At the dance festival in Piteå, choreographers and dancers enthused over the wild natural landscape and the fine studio facilities, but it is hard work planning dance programmes in such an environment. Dans i Nord, based in the town, know that a dance festival must be inclusive while also insisting on quality and innovation, and they seem to have achieved this.

The Dans i Nord Festival 2018 kicked off with a showing of varied and very enthusiastic amateur dance groups in styles from ballet to hip hop where the unifying factor was the joy of performing for friends and family. It was an entertaining and uplifting event as a prologue to the professionals.

Epilogue choreographed by Australian, Lewis Robert Major, is an extended solo performed by Pascal Marty, a dancer expertly in command of every muscle. The work investigates the death of the Western classical canon, but rather than death this is rebirth in a vigorous new form that is more questioning and less prescriptive while still embracing aesthetic beauty.

Pascal Marty in Epilogue by Lewis Robert MajorPhoto Chris Herzfeld
Pascal Marty in Epilogue by Lewis Robert Major
Photo Chris Herzfeld

Marty poses on stage, a sculptured form dusted in white powder, wearing only flesh coloured briefs and the allusions to classical statuary flood the senses. It is some time before he makes a slight move and it’s an ice-breaker moment, as mesmerising movement begins and continues in a continuous flow of circular patterns. A haze of fine dust creates a magical afterlife to each shift in position and the music, Debussy augmented by Ryuichi Sakamoto, enhances the mood. The concept is simple, but the realisation is multi-layered: each element carefully considered and staged with theatrical verve to make a solo worthy of a post-modern Bellini.

In a world obsessed with retaining youth, (and a beauty industry cashing in monumentally), age and decay make fascinating study. Marty’s second solo, Decay, a world premiere choreographed by Astrid Boons to a commissioned score by Miguelángel Clerc Parada, goes beyond the mask of superficial perfection that can only delay the passage of time. It digs under the skin to witness a struggle against the body’s limitations. Here Marty’s fine-tuned musculature morphs from the fluid beauty of Epilogue to inner torment, capturing the struggle in graphic detail as his body writhes and distorts in extraordinary shapes. Undercurrents shift, and the dynamic pace varies but there is no let-up in the spasms and the pain in an all-consuming performance.

Slotted between these two rigorous solos came Beyond Worlds 3, danced by the Youth Group from the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Piteå and choreographed by Didier Chapa with the six dancers. It’s an impressive work: an intelligent exploration of a youthful world combining potent emotions with strong dance content that showed evidence of well-trained bodies and probing minds. The dialogue moves between the dancers as duets are interrupted by occasional solos or trios, each of the young dancers finding space to present an individual character.

The following evening saw a very different event – the one-woman show, Jessica and Me.

For twenty years Cristiana Morganti was a soloist in Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Pina Bausch’s choreography was not always noted for comedy, but the humour was there. It usually came in a form that was ironic, wicked and downright subversive and it was, more often than not, interpreted by Morganti instantly recognisable by her luxuriant mass of black curly hair.

Christina Morganti in Jessica and MePhoto Claudia Kempf
Christina Morganti in Jessica and Me
Photo Claudia Kempf

Now Cristiana, (and her alter-ego Jessica), has her own show and takes to the stage in an evening of pure delight. The intelligence and deep understanding of human nature that we came to expect from Bausch’s works is strongly in evidence. Her ‘interview’ with the fictitious journalist that dispel some of the Pina myths, (and insistently gets her name corrected) is brilliantly played as she talks to her old-fashioned tape recorder.

As so much of Morganti’s professional life was entwined with the celebrated company, Tanztheater Wuppertal of necessity forms an important part of the performance, however, there is no doubt that this time it is Morganti in the director’s chair. The biographical details of her dance career are acted out with great skill and humour, especially the struggle in getting to the top and the distress in going past it and losing prime dance condition. Ripples of laughter erupted when she struck a resonant chord with dancers in the audience. She is past master at playing an audience and had us eating out of her hand even when she asked for a light for her cigarette, the great forbidden of the age.

Jessica and Me is cleverly scripted and well designed, including the intriguing projections on her huge crinoline skirt, and it’s presented with such wit and style that you wish you could stay in such delicious company a little longer.