(no star rating – a preview)
London, Print Room at the Coronet
23 February 2016 (preview)
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
First some housekeeping: I saw the first night of Terra, which was a preview – the press night is the third performance (25 February). So see this as impressions of the show, and when I see Terra again, towards the end of the run, I’ll update.
Terra is the last instalment of a trilogy – the others being inspired by water and fire, presented at the old, small, and much-loved, Print Room off Westbourne Grove. The Print Room is now at the old Coronet cinema on Notting Hill Gate – a larger stage and auditorium, unused for decades. At the moment it’s configured with a false (elevated) stage, so the old dress circle effectively feels like the stalls. And the stalls area has become a piano bar, albeit with a hell of rake! Decor-wise it feels rather like Wilton’s Music Hall – faded charm, with temporary this and that as they slowly reawaken the whole house. As configured, it feels nicely intimate, if a change from the old Print Room’s in-the-round stage. There’s a nice vibe and it really adds to the experience of seeing a show.
I went to see Terra blind. By that I mean I went as an act of faith because I liked Essakow’s earlier takes on fire and water (Ignis and Flow), both with interesting staging (read real flames and real water sloshing around). I had no preconceptions of the work, other than thinking it’s about elemental things, had booked before advertising blurbs were out and just bought a programme as house lights were about to go down. So Terra really needed to speak to me straight off the page and it didn’t really do that. The key you need to know is that Terra “explores ideas of home and belonging, refuge, migration and exile”. Not sure how elemental that is, but it’s a take on living on the earth and that’s no bad idea to put dance on, I think.
I really like the ingredients of Terra, particularly the towering set by Sofie Lachaert and Luc D’Hanis – all cream (as is the stage floor), it welds together a rock cliff and the scattered belongs of a house – as if the house had tumbled down the cliff. Or perhaps it’s alluding to another Pompeii? Whatever, it’s a truly monumental staging. Into this world enter people (in cream) with misshapen suitcases (cream – you get the idea by now) and various scenes unfold. With the benefit of hindsight, some are easy to see – like the migration, but others seemed more generic and not so clear, other than people bonding and interacting in various combinations. There was what seemed a prologue with one topless dancer noodling around for a while, but I have no idea how it fitted in. What I do know is that I really liked the cast of 6 dancers, which included some well known names, because they represented a real ethnic mix (not so usually seen on dance stage I have to say) and also included a child – only the old didn’t feel represented in this vagabond community. The connection with the dancers was further reinforced by some sections being miked-up – you could hear the breathing and the footwork, sometimes the swoosh of a glide, sometimes a staccato stamp. The soundscape of film composer Jean-Michel Bernard is sparsely intriguing, if towards the end it really builds up, as does the dancing, into something more euphoric and rather exciting.
The programme reveals more about how the work came to be formed, with words from Essakow, his assistant (Emma Lister), and his dramaturg (Laura Farnworth) who talks about the collaboration with the composer becoming a kind of script to work from. She also mentions a Ben Okri poem (we hear some brief stanzas during the performance) composed for Terra and printed in full in the programme and which they looked to weave into the piece. This is all interesting background which should be useful in interpreting what’s seen, but I don’t think that many will have the time to read it all ahead of the show. All this creativity led to something that didn’t jump out with its meaning – one constantly had the feeling that some point was possibly being made, but too muddled to read. There is a lot of moody looks and traipsing around on stage, but when Essakow lets rip with ‘real’ dance movement you start to take more interest – there is something clear to enjoy. But I say again, I did pay to see a preview and rightly those who make shows invite dance scribblers in after the previews – so none of this is definitive (as if any dance writing ever is!) and when I see the show later I will revisit and add further thoughts. In the meantime I think there is enough in the 50-minute show for people to put their head around the door, enjoy it and the Print Room experience and still have time to do something else on the night – like have a drink and mull over what exactly you saw!