Neon Dance, Empathy

Posted: February 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neon Dance, Empathy

Neon Dance, Empathy, The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, February 13

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

“The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets staged over a sequence of dramatic moments, so you empathize with the characters without really thinking about it too much.” – Ira Glass

Empathy is a work that I have already danced with a little. I invited the artistic director of Neon Dance, Adrienne Hart, and dancer Annapaola Leso to Bournemouth in 2014 for two research residencies, saw snatches of a duet at Tony Adigun’s The Factory during Dance Umbrella in late 2015 and viewed the video series released in the run-up to the première of Empathy in 2016. This ensured a proximity to the ideas and flavours prior to stepping into the theatre and this exposure influenced my receipt of the work and not necessarily in a way I was expecting. Being closer to Empathy I felt partially blunted, encountered less discovery on the evening and it made me question whether I want my pre-information appetite dry, whetted or drowned.

Hart and her creative co-conspirators in sound (composers Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, Shahzad Ismaily and Gyda Valtysdottir) and design (Numen and Ana Rajcevic) have deftly woven a seamless environment that sits equally between the choreographic, sonic and scenographic. Letting the performance grow over two years has imbued it with a depth and rigour that is missing in many works that are constrained by a 3-to-4 week rehearsal process. With five human performers and an insentient laser feeding our eyes, Empathy executes Hart’s aim of asking us to think about this state of being through an elaborate, dense and stimulating world. With a tight choreographic palette of amorphous floor-dwelling bodies, melting into each other and the floor, I found it hard to like and yet easy to admire – but the work is still resonating.

Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men.”– Theodor Adorno

Hierarchies are consistently present: human vs. human and human vs. laser; the invisibility of power is enhanced through the (wo)man/machine battles. The behaviour of the laser oscillated between playfulness and brutality; ambushing movement and suffocating extensions whilst framing the dancers with an incisive clarity. I couldn’t help but project emotional narratives on these duets and at those moments I’m looking at the empathy spectrum and deciding who should I side with? The lasers acted as a metronome, carving the stage, dictating the pace and in its more flighty moments slowing down my perception of the dancers.

There were resonances for me on the tender spectrum; when Annapaola stepped slowly towards the laser wall and waited with the tips of her hairs brushing the edge of the light as her breath settled suggesting a possibility to move through and beyond. There was emotional dissonance too; Carys Staton (a glacial technician) during her glitching laser tunnel duet failed to connect as it narrowed, slowly constricting her space — I felt nothing. This spectrum of emotional attachment to and between the performers was a large part of the success of the work; however, there were two late arrivals into this cast who weren’t present throughout the making period and were (re)presenting movement that had been generated and embodied by other bodies and this lack of investment was telling.

“Empathy is the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others. When we meet someone who is joyful, we smile. When we witness someone in pain, we suffer in resonance with his or her suffering.” – Matthieu Ricard

Rajcevic’s costume pieces enhanced the notion of empathy; mouth pieces and masks disguised areas of the body that are usually used to convey emotion challenging the dancers to present alternatively through their bodies. The arm extensions worn by Annapaola affected her movement quality, masked the hands and helped attune her to her surroundings and other bodies in her orbit.

Hart is playing the long game and her extended practice and approach to collaboration, inquiry and audience ensures Empathy remains with you long after you’ve left the theatre. She’s an architect, commentator and conductor of an orchestra of empathy, with human instruments revelling in her excavations.