‘Requiem’ by Phoenix Dance Theatre a narrative of formality and celebration

Phrases by Klara Pertmann. Klara is a part of our Visitor Writers improvement programme, which is supported by Arts Council England.

I’m somebody with many existential anxieties – of demise being one in every of them, so I hope to be the proper indicator for the way this topic is dealt with within the double-bill, Requiem – Journeys of the soul. The title itself reads like a promise of a shift in perspective, so I’m each nervous and excited to see what this journey, directed and choreographed by Dane Hurst, entails. 

The stage is darkish, and lays silent till our bodies (ensemble of Phoenix Dance Theatre) crawl onto the stage in an natural mess, making it pleasingly troublesome to separate physique half from physique half. They bring about ennui to the air and filth to the ground, reminding me: “For mud you might be, and to mud you shall return”, and shortly this return begins with the voices of the Opera North refrain. It units the tone of the piece clearly: one thing critical is going on. But when it’s so critical, why is it dragging? 

Mozart’s Requiem is an amazing piece of music to tackle, and overthinking the burden of its soundscape appears to limit the artistic vitality from flowing each in course of and efficiency, that means elements of the piece are performed with lower than anticipated. The importance and context of the piece are dealt with with an excessive amount of respect; respect in the direction of the music, respect in the direction of classical motion vocabulary, and respect in the direction of the theatre as an establishment. This leads to a profitable seriousness, however one which lacks a way of actual urgency. 

The set-design is a gray underworld, with timeworn cloth hanging from the ceiling. Church-like rows of benches permit for sturdy imagery when used deliberately, for instance when crammed up with soloists, Ellie Laugharne, Ann Taylor, Mongezi Mosoaka, and Simon Shibambu, and ensemble dancers sitting in a row, awaiting their judgement. They arise one after the other, threatening to depart. Desperately, they seize one another’s palms to stop departure. The earnest contact of hand handy, equally tender to the occasional eye contact or actions of embrace, are easy manifestations of human connection, a hyperlink that stretches via the theatre and contains me. These moments are sadly few and fleeting, as for a lot of the piece the refrain and dancers keep spatially separated. Their distance is additional enhanced by totally different costumes: the refrain in black and dancers in gray, hinting of characters that stay unclear. 

The motion is gorgeous, within the relatively restricted definition of the phrase. Bodily, however carried out with ease, I discover myself craving, looking out, for a sweat stain or drop, a flushed face, or a tremble. If demise is dreadful, life filled with agony, and human collapse is shut, then the physique ought to reveal indicators. A formidable dedication to dramatic efficiency, mixed with choreography that lacks moments of resistance and battle, makes the wrestle seem unauthentic. I re-experience the ceremony of my grandmother, the place a 15-year previous me regarded up on the grownup visitors questioning if their crying was actual or not. At that funeral, I additionally bear in mind listening to my grandfather whisper: “See you quickly” and the way I acquired a glimpse of the human in him. The simplicity of these phrases, functioning as proof of true tragedy, is what I’m lacking on stage. 

There are moments that do take a maintain of my coronary heart and squeeze it tightly, like in a solo carried out to Lacrimosa, the place the dancer is falling, twisting, and gasping, on their own, and I can sense the urgency of a floor breaking. Nevertheless, simply as I’m beginning to consider her efficiency, it’s interrupted by the self-aware presentation of a fairly leg. “No, please put it down once more”, I sigh, “Let the physique be what it already is”. Ah, all these strains, so fastidiously organized. How I want that was how my physique reacted and took form when reminded of the potential nothingness that awaits on the finish of life. 

A scene from After Tears: After A Requiem by Neo Muyanga. Picture by Tristram Kenton.

Confused over the absence of melancholia or nervousness in me, the second piece, After Tears: After a Requiem, comes as a shock. The refrain of Opera North and dancers of Phoenix Dance Theatre, at the moment are joined by dancers from Jazzart Dance Theatre, a Cape City-based firm. By way of this collaboration the choreography is influenced by South African motion vocabulary and cultural custom. 

There’s a sense of vitality on stage, and contrasting the darkish funeral, the dancers are wearing orange, yellow and fuschia. Sadly, the choir continues to be caught of their all-black uniform, and although they no less than are barefoot, they continue to be separated from the dancers. When the lights forged chilly blue on the refrain and heat yellow on the dancers, it creates an unlucky dichotomy between transferring and standing nonetheless, South African motion and classical opera. An analogous cut up peeks via when steps are glued collectively in a pressured method, making them identifiable as separate methods, calling for an internal reflection on dance historical past. However the two corporations transfer like one, embodying the choreography right into a cohesive and textured kind, guiding me via the in any other case stable piece. 

It’s a story of formality and celebration, instructed via textual content: “Come convey the dance!”, circles, smiles, and rhythm. The musical rating by Neo Muyanga, is vibrant, peculiarly nostalgic, and equally spectacular dwell as the long-lasting Mozart’s Requiem; particularly when overlaid with sounds of exclamations, chants, ft stomping and palms clapping. It’s a enjoyable whirlwind of visible and sonic fragments, largely efficiently introduced collectively via a joyful dedication of all concerned. My eyes observe two of the dancers from Jazzart Dance Theatre, Vuyelwa Phota and Savannah Petrus. They radiate vitality, they’re having fun with their very own presence; flirting with themselves, the viewers, and the opposite company-member, as sweat drips from their human our bodies. I consider them! 

The carried out ceremony is talking of a journey not solely of the soul, but in addition of historical past and interpretation of tradition. Loss of life at first appears completely absent from the social gathering, however as I grow to be increasingly more conscious of life’s capacities, I realise my very own preformed thought of demise is irrelevant and pointless. The energetic motion says there may be life in demise, and demise in life, there may be optimism in melancholia, and manic vitality launched via loss. That is communicated via bodily language; the residing physique as a reminder of its personal prospects. 

My soul was certainly taken on a journey, from an underground funeral, to a vibrant celebration within the solar. I’m barely underwhelmed by how demise, and the existential questions it often poses, are completely absent from my in any other case all the time spiralling being. Both the efficiency cured my nervousness, redefined my idea of demise, or didn’t totally contact its topic. Possibly all of them. 

Header picture by Richard H. Smith.