This can be frustrating, but on the plus side can also offer the opportunity to view performances as powerful as Seeking Unicorns by the award-winning Italian performer Chiara Bersani.
Hosted by the National Gallery in one of its smaller rooms, Seeking Unicorns is not quite dance, but rather an unflinching staged study on how we react to very visible, almost ostentatious, disability.
Chiara Bersani is 98cm tall with serious mobility constraints.
Chiara Bersani, Seeking Unicorns. Photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou
She likens her physicality to a unicorn. Throughout 40 minutes she crawls across the floor, around which the audience sit. Her progress, anchored on her knuckles, is slow but determined, lulled by a discreet sound score, and as it goes on so it conquers you.
At intervals she’ll come and sit very close to some of the punters and look each one in the eye. Can you withstand her direct gaze? And how would you answer the question she poses in the programme notes: ‘If tomorrow you found me in your garden, what would you do?’
By contrast, Oona Doherty’s Navy Blue (pictured top) is more dance than umbrella, though it poses its own angst-ridden philosophical questions.
Dressed in shabby, uniform navy-blue suits 12 anything-but-uniform dancers stand before us on Sadler's Wells' empty stage, the bareness of which feels sinister. They could be inmates of a labour camp.
As they move, quoting from classical ballet vocabulary but transforming it into something new, they extract every last bit of angst from the tempestuous nature of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2.
They huddle together, or they break apart with runs that stop suddenly at the edges of the stage, clearly signifying their confinement. The feeling of unease intensifies throughout the second movement adagio, as each of the dancers in turn succumbs to the dry report of a shot. One is left, shaking her head with disbelief, her body contracting in anticipation before she, too, is felled.
They lie on the ground which gradually comes alive with flickering blue lights as the first indistinct sounds of Jamie xx's score can be heard.
Gradually they rise – is this a rebirth in a kinder universe? – and then Doherty’s own voice blends with the intensifying sound score to raise a number of urgent questions about ourselves and the times we live in.
Occasionally the dancers lip-synch briefly to her increasingly urgent questions. Of an itemised production budget she asks: ‘What’s the point? What is it for? What will it do?’, the dancers' jerky movements briefly softening as they huddle and undulate like an amoeba.
The conclusion seems to be that each one us, existing in the limitless universe, must accept insignificance and meaninglessness. ‘There’s nothing you can do’, she tells us, ‘just love each other and die.’
Belfast-based Oona Doherty has made a career out of asking and enacting deep, difficult questions, and so it is with Navy Blue. The work is concept-heavy, and you will be inclined to draw whatever analogies are suggested by your own experience.
However, to her credit Doherty never sacrifices dance to philosophical inquiry, but skilfully combines the two in well-rounded works, the import of which cannot be ignored.
|What||DU 2022 – Bersani/Doherty review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
13 Oct 22 – 23 Oct 22, At National Gallery and Sadler's Wells. Various starting times