Review: The Forsythe Company in Three Atmospheric Studies at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 11 - 14 Oct
Reviewed by Lisa Haight - Thursday 12 October 2006

Three Atmospheric Studies by The Forsythe Company was an elongated burst of exciting choreography, dance and music with a political theme that visually came alive as the programme had described it. In Composition 1, thirteen dancers, casually dressed, aside from Jone San Martin, portraying a Mother in a pink dress, entered the stage walking a straight line. The Mother broke the line, walked forward and announced to the audience, “my son was arrested” before disappearing off the stage. The remaining dancers started moving around the stage quickly doing jerky movements, twists, turns and slides to create a constantly shifting tableaux depicting an explosion and the son’s arrest. The son, dressed in a red shirt and grey trousers like a moving target, was honed in on and repeatedly captured and restrained. Composition 1 was performed with the house lights dimmed perhaps to convey to the audience a sense of being where the action was. When the son was eventually taken away, the house lights went off and the audience was no longer a witness. There was also no music for this piece, just the sound of the dancers’ breath which worked to heighten the intensity of the choreography. Aesthetically, this was a pleasing piece to watch.

In Composition 2, white strings were drilled into the floor and suspended from the ceiling depicting artistic vanishing points of Composition 4, a crucifixion scene by the painter Lukas Cranach, and Composition 5, a modern-day press agency photograph portraying an exploding landscape in the Middle East (to be honest I wouldn’t have understood that from seeing the show if I hadn’t read the programme. Compositions 4 and 5 were displayed in the foyer of Sadler’s Wells and were both striking and memorable images to view.) The Mother was sitting in a chair next to a speaker talking about her son’s arrest whilst a man sat at a desk on the other side of the stage translating her account of what happened into Arabic for her. Whilst this was going on another dancer, David Kern, traced the lines going across the stage. Eventually, the translator wasn’t doing the translation word for word and the Mother stood up and started agitated movements whilst her speech slowed right down. Composition 2 was gripping to watch.

Composition 3 began with David Kern talking about a small black and white picture of clouds that was contained inside a wooden frame, part of a large rounded wooden structure with doors in it, that took up half of the stage. The Mother sat up against the door and watched what was going on before her, whilst a soldier (Dana Caspersen) patronisingly talked to her about the necessities of war. Whilst the Mother is being spoken to by the soldier, more “explosions” happen on stage and some dancers hit the wooden wall with an overpowering reverberation. Composition 3 carries on like this and ends rather abruptly.

Overall, Three Atmospheric Studies was fascinating to watch. It had so many different visual references, that it is a piece one might want to see again in order not to miss something. I was also impressed with the overt political material, something that seems to be lacking in most dance shows today.

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