In Paris in the 1930’s, the Surrealists, inspired by their leader André Breton, liked nothing more than going to the cinema. But not just one cinema, nor just one film. They would choose a cinema at random and go in, staying only a few minutes. They would repeat the exercise at the next cinema, and the next and the next, collating a patchwork of seemingly unrelated snippets from which they would piece together a random narrative that had no sense and no dimension in space or time.
Norwegian choreographer Alan Lucien Øyen’s avowed intent was to create such a milieu in his dystopian piece Tell Your Mom You Love Your Skin which was half of the opening show of NDT’s 2021/22 Season, Skin of the Mind. In this world premiere one always felt there was a story-line, but one could never quite figure it out. Just as you thought you understood it, it moved off somewhere else. It seemed to be all about memory and identity, maybe more than that, maybe less.
Dressed in fifty shades of beige, the seventeen dancers occupied a space that could have been an apartment with lots of windows, an art gallery with lots of pictures or, indeed, anything you wanted it to be.
The whole piece was structured around text written by Mr Øyen and spoken by the dancers. It started with a lone guy whose memory was playing tricks. More monologues ensued, all of which inspired different sequences. The most spectacular of which was the one where three rows of spotlights were lowered to about four meters above the stage and swayed to and fro while the dancers strutted their stuff like some half imagined unworldly fashion show.
Ever present in their anonymous chamber was a booming Big Brother-like voice which intervened like a thunderclap at random moments.
We, rather satisfyingly, never discovered the whys, wheres and whens, but maybe one of the penultimate lines shed some light on the proceeding, although maybe it didn’t. “This whole building’s being demolished,” said one of the guys, to which the response was, “I know”.
Powerful, intriguing stuff. Tell Your Mom You Love Your Skin is almost a play with movement, a dance piece into which the spoken word brings a new, thought provoking dimension.
The first half of the double bill was a reprise of the 2015 Bedroom Folk by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. This was a far more formal, structured piece with, for the most part, the fourteen dancers moving in unison to a mainly percussive soundscape by Ori Lichtik which occasionally rattled our seats. The huge bare stage was, with lighting and décor by Thierry Dreyfus’, an ever changing kaleidoscope of colour and light. The powerful use of a single spotlight pointing straight down created some memorable moments. I particularly liked the sequence where the dancers moved in a circle in a pool of light. It put me in mind of a Piranesi engraving. I also liked the use of shadows created by a ground level single light source. Bedroom Folk is a great ensemble piece with all the dancers on stage working together at the same time and it provided a nice counterpoint to the less formally structured Tell Your Mom You Love Your Skin.
This was a special night as it marked the first performance by NDT in their new permanent home in the still unfinished, though already impressive Amare complex in the centre of The Hague. Michael Hasted 24th September 2021
Photo by and © Rahi Rezvani