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

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

I’m somebody with many existential anxieties – of dying being one among them, so I hope to be the proper indicator for a 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 carry ennui to the air and grime to the ground, reminding me: “For mud you’re, 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 severe is going on. But when it’s so severe, why is it dragging? 

Mozart’s Requiem is an awesome piece of music to tackle, and overthinking the load of its soundscape appears to limit the inventive 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 ends in 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 robust 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 arms 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 consists of me. These moments are sadly few and fleeting, as for many 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 somewhat restricted definition of the phrase. Bodily, however carried out with ease, I discover myself craving, looking, for a sweat stain or drop, a flushed face, or a tremble. If dying 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 combat, makes the battle seem unauthentic. I re-experience the ceremony of my grandmother, the place a 15-year outdated me seemed up on the grownup friends 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 lonesome, and I can sense the urgency of a floor breaking. Nevertheless, simply as I’m beginning to imagine her efficiency, it’s interrupted by the self-aware presentation of a reasonably leg. “No, please put it down once more”, I sigh, “Let the physique be what it already is”. Ah, all these traces, 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. Photograph by Tristram Kenton.

Confused over the absence of melancholia or anxiousness 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, are actually joined by dancers from Jazzart Dance Theatre, a Cape City-based firm. Via 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 at the very least are barefoot, they continue to be separated from the dancers. When the lights solid chilly blue on the refrain and heat yellow on the dancers, it creates an unlucky dichotomy between shifting and standing nonetheless, South African motion and classical opera. An identical break up peeks via when steps are glued collectively in a pressured method, making them identifiable as separate methods, calling for an inside reflection on dance historical past. However the two corporations transfer like one, embodying the choreography right into a cohesive and textured type, guiding me via the in any other case strong piece. 

It’s a story of formality and celebration, informed via textual content: “Come convey the dance!”, circles, smiles, and rhythm. The musical rating by Neo Muyanga, is vibrant, peculiarly nostalgic, and equally spectacular stay as the long-lasting Mozart’s Requiem; particularly when overlaid with sounds of exclamations, chants, toes stomping and arms clapping. It’s a enjoyable whirlwind of visible and sonic fragments, largely efficiently introduced collectively via a joyful dedication of all concerned. My eyes comply with 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 imagine 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 occasion, however as I turn into increasingly more conscious of life’s capacities, I realise my very own preformed concept of dying is irrelevant and pointless. The energetic motion says there may be life in dying, and dying 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 dying, and the existential questions it often poses, are completely absent from my in any other case at all times spiralling being. Both the efficiency cured my anxiousness, redefined my idea of dying, or didn’t totally contact its topic. Perhaps all of them. 

Header picture by Richard H. Smith.