Review: Katja Nyqvist / Mazzilli Dance Theatre at Blue Elephant Theatre

Performance: 10 - 12 & 17 - 19 May 2012
Reviewed by Emmanuelle Julien - Friday 11 May 2012

Katja Nyqvist 'Underfoot'

Performance: 10 May

Solidly standing under a bright spotlight, feet firmly anchored into the ground, Katja Nyqvist is already on stage as the audience starts to fill up their seats, her strong posture speaking for her piece more than words ever could. The Finnish-born dancer/choreographer likes to describe her work Underfoot with the words of Andre Lepecki (Associate Professor, Department of Performance Studies at New York University) :‘‘The moment one gives up one’s verticality, the first thing one discovers is that even the smoothest ground is not flat. The ground is grooved, cracked, cool, painful, hot, smelly, dirty.’‘

Nyqvist’s dance takes us back to the basics: a grounded body, a shift of weight from one leg to another, hips slowly undulating and then comes the movement. It is natural, free and a breath of fresh air in comparison with more overly thought-out choreography. She explores the floor, breathing heavily into each movement. Her graceful and hypnotising hands complete the intention of each step. There is no music but the rhythm is seen and heard through her feet. It’s sometimes fast and tribal, when she travels across the floor with bent knees and a raw energy; sometimes delicate when she reaches to the sky, using the ground to lift herself up. Underfoot is about movement, movement so physically and spiritually free, that it suddenly comes alive.

The second piece in this double bill is a dance theatre creation by Annarita Mazzilli, of Mazzilli Dance Theatre. For How Much? was originally created for the International Organisation for Migration’s Buy Responsibly campaign, to highlight the issue of forced labour around the world.

The intriguing choreography demonstrates the brutality of a world where bodies are robbed of their souls, forced to work against their will. The piece demonstrates order and chaos, hope and despair: the dancers, distressed workers, travel through the stage robotically, the living-dead, deprived of their spirit. Dancer Donovan Morris, entering the stage with his tongue sticking out and a vicious smile on his face, rendered perfectly the sneaky and coldly abusive employer, unashamed of the fear he imposes. The dancers are scared, hurt, hands up to the sky, trying to reach an uncertain, better future. They translate the choreographer’s emotions perfectly, switching from sorrow to anger, pushing desperately against the walls of the stage to try to escape their reality, and letting loose on the floor in wild movement, refusing to silently accept their misery. They dance together and with each other, while the boss, smirking, rubbing his hands, uses them to his advantage.

Annarita Mazzilli is excellent; her energy fills up the room, her facial expressions vivid. Each of the dancers are also able to show their strength and personality in this work, proving their impressive technique as well as their performing skills. The music, composed and played live by by Andy Higgs, adds emotion and depth to Mazzilli’s work. The use of coins for props is interesting: the dancers, throwing themselves desperately on the ground, ready for anything to catch a few coins dropped to the floor, painting a convincing picture of the horror of forced labour, and the mixed feelings of anger and hopelessness.

A powerful and deeply human choreography, performed with energy and emotion, For How Much? is thought-provoking and moving.

Continues to Sat 12 May & Thu 17 – Sat 19 May, 8pm.
Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Rd, Camberwell SE5 0XT
Tickets £9 ( conc. £6, Southwark residents £4)
www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk

Emmanuelle Julien took part in English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word course earlier this year.

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