Igor and Moreno warn people in the programme notes for Andante that there will be smoke and perfume – lots of it. I’m looking forward to the unusual perfumes of experimental perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri which promise to be wafted into the audience and I’m not disappointed. I have to wait thirty minutes or so before this olfactory pleasure, but it’s worth it.
Andante is a piece about contemplation, about switching off and allowing the senses to take over. True to the meaning of the musical term from which the work takes its title, Andante is slow paced with distinct movements. At times it is so sedate that even though we are encouraged to ‘zone out’ and ‘connect’ with our senses, boredom creeps in. There are dead moments in Andante and while some of these provide an opportunity for reflection others are just monotonous.
As the performers walk onto the bright white stage, one by one in leisurely fashion under a bank of glaring lights, they gingerly step on firecrackers. The noise of popping blends with their quiet, melodic humming. The four distinct performers, Eleanor Sikorski, Giorgia Nardin, Moreno Solinas and Igor Urzelai, wearing pale blue, transparent hoodies, search the audience with benign gazes. Ambling up close to us or retreating upstage, each one communicates with members of the audience in a silent dialogue betrayed by a flicker of a smile on their neutral faces. They are soothingly beguiling, celestial even.
Smoke fills a huge pillow case at the back of the stage. The humming escalates into proper harmony, actions speed up, and the company work together now, like a strange but enchanting choir. Suddenly the lights dim, the dancers exit and smoke is released from the enormous pillow. The atmosphere changes from blissful heaven to a fraught dystopian territory. Sikorski reappears through the gloom, spinning on the spot, her humming less tranquil now.
As the scents of warm, woody sandalwood hit my nostrils, followed by a bitter base note, so does the pace and tone of Andante assault the senses. Louder, hard white noise accompanies the dancers who now move in circles, skipping, running or hopping. They perform with partners what looks like Basque or Morris folk dances; they form a line and quote a section from Stephen Paterson’s line dance. It’s comical but disorientating as after a frenzy of activity, they gradually become obscured by the smoke and disappear.
The aromatic mists keep enveloping us and we are left to our own devices in a cloud of ugly harsh sound and flashing lights. Occasionally a tantalising shadow briefly reappears out of the fog. While intriguing, the lengthy duration of this disappearing act becomes arduous.
Thankfully the music changes to soothing ambient with a suggestion of the sea. There’s a delicious new, salty sweet aroma, which is just as well as we sit here for a long time, waiting for the show to end. Unfinished, visually interrogative, physically unconvincing, it’s a fascinating piece of conceptual art and one that unabashedly rejects the conventions of dance. But on a human level, Andante is lacking, intangible. There’s little opportunity to connect with the performers, so in spite of some sensory delights, the obscurity of Andante leaves me feeling quite empty.