zero visibility corp.
…it’s only a rehearsal
London, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells
11 November 2014
Part of the Northern Light season at Sadler’s Wells
Norway – land of the midnight sun, superlative winter athletes and repeated poor showings at Eurovision – is less well-known in the UK at present for its contemporary dance scene. Norwegian choreographer Ina Christel Johannessen has been quietly building an international profile over the last decade; however, with her energetic, theatrical commissions for Scottish Dance Theatre and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo as well as work for her own company. ….it’s only a rehearsal first appeared over a decade ago and has since become the choreographer’s international calling card.
The piece opens simply: a man, a woman, a zinc-clad floor, white lights. The performers stand casually on stage as we enter, chatting quietly – perhaps notes about the show to come, perhaps observations about the audience filing into seats. With a simple drop of the house lights the show begins, the lack of ceremony suggesting a relaxed studio sharing rather than a formal performance.
Johannessen’s largely abstract, athletic choreography makes great use of the physical attributes of her two performers. Dimitri Jourde has a remarkably articulate torso: his hips, shoulders and chin revolve in endless circles as he spirals to the floor and back, folding limbs in on themselves with the eloquent grace. Line Tørmoen winds herself around her partner, flipping around his neck into some genuinely inventive partnering configurations.
The loose narrative deals with a pair of lovers (the programme note names the goddess Artemis and the hunter Actaeon, although the point is never laboured) encountering one another and passing through many phases of union before building to a comically violent finish. They join at the hip and, for a striking four-minute sequence, the lip, pivoting around one another in a stickily passionate smooch where the pair remain liplocked even as Tørmoen ascends onto Jourde’s back and around again to the floor. As Tørmoen breaks off to tease and chide her lover, Jourde’s pouting lips continue seeking hers with a tender hunger; it’s perhaps one of the most vivid expressions of desire I’ve seen on the stage to date.
The piece moves through darker shades of sexual attraction, play and politics; sometimes the couple’s union appears coercive or non-consensual, Jourde physically manipulating an unimpressed-looking Tørmoen. Sometimes she seems to be leading the action, enticing and embracing her partner. What’s refreshing about these shifts in power and agency is the balance in action between the two performers; too often in modern dance we see women’s bodies flung about by their male partners with no variation in the partnering and no real exploration of what this might mean in its wider social context.
Towards the end of the piece, Tørmoen gives us a quick verbal summary of the story of Artemis and Actaeon (he sees her bathing; she turns him into a stag; he is torn apart by his own hunting dogs) in English. Jourde picks up the theme in French and runs with it, giving a rapid, highly physical and very verbose account of the same story. Despite the violent ending, the sequence is comically slapstick with absurd details thrown into the telling. It’s a bold twist to the work, adding a layer of humour which is at odds with the sensual and sometimes provocative feel of the earlier sections. It also leaves Tørmoen at a bit of a loss, smiling at the side of the stage while her partner throws himself (quite literally) into storytelling mode.
Overall, however, ….it’s only a rehearsal is a very fine piece of work, a visually striking and stimulating duet danced by two superb performers. Following a couple of mid-season wobbles which had left me trepidatious about Nordic dance, Johannessen’s piece brings excellence back to the Northern Light programme.