Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, UK; November 12, 2014
“…it’s only a rehearsal” written by Ina Christel Johannessen is one of those works you don’t forget. I first saw it at the Kuopio Festival about ten years back but the memory of this extraordinary piece has remained etched on my memory. On the surface it is a well-structured dance dialogue lasting just over an hour but the subtext deals with relationships at a visceral level.
The duet has the laidback experimental air of a rehearsal; the couple stand on the side of the stage, relaxed and somewhat bemused, as the audience file in. But when they get down to dancing the emotions are the real and the richness of the dance language constantly surprises. Line Tørmoen and Dimitri Jourde have a varied training and performing background. Jourde’s circus skills, in particular, are noticeable as he seems to hover in space or to bounce off the surface of the stage. These skills give the double work an element of danger but also spontaneity that brings the emotions flooding to the surface.
The light banter and easy dialogue of the opening builds to a climax of desire where the traits of the mythological characters start to emerge. The background myth is that of Artemis/Diana who, angered that Acteon observes her bathing naked in her sacred pool, transformed him into a stag who is then hunted to death to death by his own dogs. Artemis obviously has an unsatisfactory relationship with men and is not sufficiently confident in herself to understand forgiveness. She wants sexual fulfilment but also needs to dominate. Acteon, is portrayed as a less complicated and very likeable, figure who simply wants to fulfil his desire.
After an intense erotic duet and a change of scene to a painted woodland complete with a startlingly real stuffed stag, Jourde has a routine of brilliant clowning. In French, English and graphic mime he describes the death of Acteon, torn apart by his own dogs. Like the device of the messenger relating a death in Greek drama, it renders the obscene – literally deeds impossible to show on the stage – theatrically possible. The closing remark from Atemis/ Tørmoen that her notorious bathing in the sacred pool may have occurred after rather than before his death is a brilliant aside that turns the whole myth on its head. Johannessen says ‘ambiguity’ is her favourite word and in this extraordinary duet, we have the word fleshed out.