The tragic beauty of Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven with Stockholm 59° North

Christianasalen, Piteå, Sweden
September 17, 2017

Maggie Foyer

The northern provinces of Sweden are vast and, compared with most of Europe, pretty empty. However, there are a number of art organisations that see the population is well served with culture. One of these is Dans I Nord, directed by Marie Larsson Sturdy, who have a lively programme of dance lined up that started with a screening of Guiditta Sunnermark film, Marie’s Attitude, a perceptive and fascinating insight into the life of Marie Lindqvist, former principal with the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Stockholm 59° North, the chamber company of soloists currently directed by Mia Hjelte, has proved a valuable calling card for the Royal Swedish Ballet. The small group of has the flexibility to tour and the quality to be fine ambassadors while offering a platform for new choreography and interesting revivals, which was the order for their current programme.

Daria Ivanova and Daniel Norgren-Jensen in Serious RefrainPhoto Carl Thorborg
Daria Ivanova and Daniel Norgren-Jensen in
Serious Refrain
Photo Carl Thorborg

It was also an evening of contrasts with, Serious Refrain, a premiere from Jérôme Marchand and Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven. Dove, a protégé of Alvin Ailey and a hugely talented choreographer died tragically young and the company are fortunate to have this beautiful work that was written for them in 1993. Set to Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, it is a riveting work as the heartbreak of love and loss are played out in punishing physicality. In a circle of ritual bonding, marked by the tolling of the bells, they join briefly in a recurring pattern of steps. There is camaraderie, but ultimately each soul treads a lonely path. The choreography is fierce and emotionally charged, with each dancer facing huge challenges that need courage and total commitment.

Dove’s style is distinctive. He uses pointe to brilliant effect, creating extreme shapes and precarious balances, daring to go where few have trodden. But there are more intimate moments as in the duet of two men, ending as AdiLiJiang Abudureheman slips quietly under the outstretched arm of Daniel Norgren-Jensen but the embrace lasts only a moment as Abudureheman is drawn away to melt into the surrounding darkness.

The lighting design, from Martin Säfström, is integral to the structure creating individual islands of light as well as sculptural shadows on bodies clothed simply in white tights. Each dancer, the three women, Desislava Stoeva, Emily Slawski and Kaho Yanagisawa, and the men, Dawid Kupinski completing the trio, each deserve a mention but I was particularly impressed with Yanagisawa who stepped into the role at short notice. She successfully nailed the fiendish choreographic challenges while bringing human warmth to illuminate the underlying tragic nature of this beautiful work.

Daria Ivanova in Serious RefrainPhoto Carl Thorborg
Daria Ivanova in Serious Refrain
Photo Carl Thorborg

Marchand is steadily building an oeuvre of interesting works and in Serious Refrain, he exploits his gift for comedy, stepping confidently into Monty Python territory to optimise the comic potential of the banana. The dance is stylish and effective using a wide variety of contemporary and street dance moves. There are wickedly voguish moments as three dancers, conservatively dressed in white sports shirts and navy shorts, ostentatiously peel and eat their bananas in perfect unison. There was gung-ho street dance competition between Ross Martinson and Johnny McMillan, with McMillan winning by a flash flip. And surrounding the mayhem were the bananas, scattered on the perimeter and many secreted in Norgren-Jensen’s blue unitard in company with a surreptitious leek.

A highlight was the ‘Passion for Dance’ tango lesson narrated and danced by Norgren-Jensen with Daria Ivanova. His tall, thin body lends itself to comic excess and his smile surpasses all toothpaste ads. Ivanova, a supremely elegant blonde with eloquent shoulders follows the dance instructor to the letter, ‘feet apart and knees together’ as her knees meet with magnetic fervour in a moment to treasure. Comedy, as the saying goes, is no laughing matter and the hard work this skilled team has invested paid off in a witty and hugely enjoyable dance work.