Thursday, May 22, 2014

Emma Martin Dance, 'Tundra': Left Out In the Cold

Like the Arctic tundra, Emma Martin's dance is mostly shrouded in darkness. Will it shed enough light to lead us anywhere? 

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin Dance Festival
May 20-23

My review of Tundra by Emma Martin coming up after the jump ...

Billed as a dance "reminiscent of a David Lynch film", you might find yourself after Tundra thinking back to those debates around Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks. Lynch's triumph was that the spectator became the one who is ultimately manoeuvred into the role of detective, still trying to solve unanswered mysteries long after the characters are gone.

While Emma Martin is far from superfluous in her choreography (her Dogs in 2012 remains in my memory as the most focused and realised dance work I've seen), the action in Tundra is paired way back, retaining a subtlety but is it enough to guide towards any clues or conclusions?

Visually, it's composed of careful and really slick noir images. Inside a drab grey building, Raymond Keane's neatly-dressed onlooker sends clouds of smoke from his cigarette, assuming a menace. Directing a remote-control car in circles before it crashes into a wall, we get the idea that he's toying with lives.

When four outsiders enter in fur coats, as if delivered from the Arctic tundra itself, it's like they've returned from a funeral, swaying and lost. Their relationship to Keane's manipulator isn't disclosed, though the simultaneous lighting of his cigarette with Justine Cooper's (coveted by many who wish they could move as well in heels) suggests a connection.

Going on the title of the performance, we are to expect a space more shrouded in darkness than light. Sarah Jane Shiels' lighting flickers when not creeping slowly to reveal figures in half light. A similar sensibility is seen in the music, arranged by Nick Roth and Francesco Turrisi, which prefers jangles and scratches rather than clean melody.

The performance has no problem admitting that it's about 'nothing', which isn't a problem. Samuel Beckett demonstrated that there is meaning to be found in meaninglessness. However, you'd wish that when dealt with 'nothing' there is 'something' to be mourned. After all, we don't just find ourselves in a state of meaningless; first we are to be stripped back like those banana peels in Krapp's Last Tape, until naked and exposed, confronted by the universe. 

Cooper may slowly peel herself from her fur coat in a similar effect, before crumpling into complete implosion. Oona Doherty's nerving movements, which seem to literally slice the air, also want to demonstrate a life spinning out of control. However, without a greater sense of what these individuals have lost, the consequences don't feel all that prominent.

With occasional glances towards jumbled images on a small television (I don't know if anyone beyond the fourth row got a look in), there is the possibility for nostalgia, images of a previous life. This isn't clear enough to stir any emotion, nor are the arrival of veiled widows, who strut in fishnets like cabaret dancers. Also caught in this confusion are Simon Jaymes and Neil Fleming Brown, deft and capable but never given their dues.

Visually, Tundra may move subtly to provoke that human desire to solve mystery but is it too high a request to access a revelation about life or death, heaven or hell? If dance or theatre ultimately reserves itself to form and presentation, it has no hope of making sense of the world. It leaves us out in the cold.

What did everybody else think?

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