Haparanda Folkets hus, Sweden
September 26, 2015

Förvandlingen (dancers: Malcom Sutherland and Tristan Roubillard) Photo Mats Lindgren

Förvandlingen (dancers: Malcom Sutherland and Tristan Roubillard)
Photo Mats Lindgren

Maggie Foyer

Dans i Nord is one of the agencies tasked with bringing dance to Norrbotten, the northern segment of Sweden: sparsely populated, incredibly beautiful and a little wild. It is not your standard location for new dance which tends to seek out an edgy urban base.

As well as buying in productions, Dans i Nord have begun to create their own programmes as evidenced in the double bill presented at Haparanda, a mere 1,022km from Stockholm and precisely on the Swedish/ Finnish border.

Joseph Sturdy’s Förvandlingen (The Metamorphosis) takes its title from Kafka’s novel and the work is backgrounded on the fear of not being recognised as a human being: a very topical fear for the hundreds of refugees slowly streamed through the border control about 1km from the theatre.

The cast of five was led by Jens Rosén, guesting from the Royal Swedish Ballet. Although none of the characters were named, he could be seen as the authorial voice, observing as much as dancing. Rosén, a dancer always present in the moment, draws the audience in to experience both his vulnerability and fear and expresses his feelings in sharply focused dance.

Sturdy’s choreography is rich and inventive, much of it very physical but balanced with moments of well-placed stillness. The opening scene reveals two dancers, one lying on a slab while the other explores his body as though it were a curious object. They switch places and the exploration becomes a stronger mechanical manipulation setting the landscape of emotional dystrophy. The dancers, Tristan Roubillard and Malcolm Sutherland, dressed in sombre suits are as detached as laboratory assistants and their tone of disconnection and isolation continues to permeate the work.

Subsequent duets occasionally hint at relationships, the two women, Laura Lamy and Eva Kolarova working together in rhythmic harmony. A repeated solo made interesting viewing as each performer made the sequence their own, bringing a personal level of angst and distress to the same movements.

The Reed Warbler in rehearsal  (dancers Daria Ivanova and Clyde Emmanuel Archer)  Photo Dawid Kupinski

The Reed Warbler in rehearsal
(dancers Daria Ivanova and Clyde Emmanuel Archer)
Photo Dawid Kupinski

The work is set to a mixed bag of well-chosen music on an effectively lit stage, but in the middle section seemed to lose momentum. This was unexpected, as both choreography and quality of the dancers were strong and engaging throughout. The nature of the piece, lack of empathy and little in the way of meaningful relationships, resulted in a circular loop when a defined pathway would have given direction. However, into the home straight and the work gathered momentum highlighted in a powerful solo for Rosén on top physical form, well exploited in Sturdy’s choreography.

The Reed Warbler marks a promising choreographic debut from Jérôme Marchand. He brings a team of five dancers moonlighting from the Royal Swedish Ballet and very welcome guests they were too. Based on bad bird behaviour – the cuckoo in the nest – it was a light-hearted and witty complement. The atmospheric sound score, also by Marchand, ranged from bird sounds to street music. However I would have liked the morning mists to clear a little sooner.

Clyde Emmanuel Archer returned to the stage after injury; still moving with panther grace. He was joined by Anthony Lomuljo, another top quality dancer. Marchand’s choreography is very of-the-moment and introduces a gutsy dose of street to the liquid shimmying across the floor.

Daria Ivanova and Sarah-Jane Medley, their long legs extended by pointe shoes, pick their way across the stage like a pair of kooky vogue models effectively costumed in black lycra with flesh coloured shoulders accenting the modish look. There was a delicious sense of comedy bubbling under the surface that came out particularly strongly in the pointe work and the duets, and was delivered firmly tongue in cheek. Gil Shachar, the cuckoo, arrived to disturb the happily nested family creating disorder and mayhem. Towards the end a voice over explains the bird habits in the sombre tones of a documentary, a neat contrast to the obstreperous behaviour on stage. It was an engaging work in which Marchand successfully harnesses his dancers’ talents while exploiting his own.