Figure a Sea at the Southbank Centre
Dance as meditation, poetry, abstraction, self-revelation, experimentation, improvisation? Figure a Sea, choreographed by Cullberg Ballet’s Deborah Hay, is primarily about possibility. Evoking elements of nature, the 21 dancers move quickly to artist, musician and composer Laurie Anderson’s compelling score – or in silence, with the only sound a patter of feet, like raindrops.
The production is about seeing – how the dancers interpret their emotions and their environment, and how the audience sees the performance. There is so much happening on stage – with individuals presented within single bubbles of action, while also manifesting as a group or groups – and the focus of viewers determines what they see.
Reductivist and technically meticulous, while integrating freedom of expression, the piece parallels life in that it incorporates paradoxical contrasts: vigour and calm, precision and disorder, purpose and randomness, certainty and uncertainty. The performers are barefoot, some barelegged, which amplifies the sense of the organic. Seeking answers to the question “what if?”, their movements are tentative, explorative – idiosyncratic yet collaborative.
Combining gentle synthesiser and instrumentals, Anderson’s electronic composition is as subtle as the sounds of nature – low key and unobtrusive, yet vital to the atmosphere of ambiguity and wonder. Juxtaposed with silence, her music is superbly arranged by Martin Ekman as an intrinsic element of the dance. Aptly minimalist costuming (Marita Tjarnstrom) and set plus superbly illuminating lighting design (Minna Tiikkainen) are equally important, with mostly black and bluish tones. Muted geometric shapes throughout enhance the aura of philosophical abstraction and the work’s allusions to expressionist art. The simplicity of presentation serves to highlight the artists, whose moment-to-moment choices define impulse, feeling, reaction, perception and vision.
To juggle and carry off qualities of technical excellence with a spirit of improv, uncertainty and disorder shows the considerable talent of the performers. Within the framework of Hay’s superb choreography, Cullberg’s production Figure a Sea renders a compelling, thought-provoking, serenely enjoyable experience.
Photo: Urban Jörén
Figure a Sea was at the Southbank Centre on 6th September 2019. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.