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Dance Umbrella 2006

Dansgroep Krisztina de Chatâl - 'Föld'

by Stuart Sweeney

October 24, 2006 -- Greenwich Dance Agency, London

Although circle dances are found in many folk cultures, it is unusual to find Western dance performance following this form due to the primary position of the proscenium arch theatre. Yet, in Dance Umbrella 2006, we have seen this pattern used twice: in Merce Cunningham’s “Ocean” and now, Krisztina de Chatâl’s “Föld”. Both employ a circular stage surrounded by the audience, but whereas “Ocean” features a range of dance shapes, the choreography of “Föld” rigorously follows a circular structure for almost the entirety of its 50-minute length, and perhaps because of this, provides stronger images.

When we entered GDA’s large hall we faced a 6-ton circular mound of earth, like the mouth of a volcano, enclosing seven dancers visible from the waist up. Initially scattered randomly within this boundary, the performers slowly took stock of each other, the spectators and their location. Small head turns gave way to moving around the space and then coalesced into a circle inside the rim. Walking behind one another, a series of head, body and arm movements were explored and all proceeded in a formalist and pristine fashion.

Then one of the dancers hurled his body against the mound, rolling against the rim, breaking the symmetry of the surroundings, with the others following. The dance then expanded, sometimes on top of the mound, sometimes on the outer wall, but always attacking the earth and moving it into new shapes. About two thirds of the way through, one by one the dancers became still, crouching on top of the earthwork, close together in a short arc. Although their bodies still heaved with their previous exertions, this was a magical moment of relative stillness. .

The physical labor continued and in an extended sequence cascades of earth were flung into the air as the dancers revolved around the outside edge of the bank. As “Another look at Harmony, Part 4”, Philip Glass’s minimalist choral work reached its climax, we saw the final shape of the flattened mound and the dancers came to rest.

The programme notes describe “a battle for survival, attempting to fight their way out.” However, my impression was more of a religious ceremony, heightened by the cathedral aura of Glass’s music as well as my memories of the sacred circle dances found in many societies. A second impression was of a communal, transforming mission and the power of a group acting together to achieve goals impossible for an individual. The lighting, including a circular rig over the mound, enhanced the powerful images, but the designer is not formally acknowledged. Conrad van de Ven is credited with the concept for the work and Joost Verlinden performed the doubtless taxing role of Technical Co-ordinator. Overall, “Föld” provided an enthralling and memorable evening.

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