Scottish Dance Theatre's Aya Steigman in Fleur Darkin's Miann. Photo Brian Hartley

Scottish Dance Theatre’s Aya Steigman in Fleur Darkin’s Miann.
Photo Brian Hartley

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK; April 8, 2015

Jessica Wilson

How do we move on after the death of a loved one? This is the question asked by Fleur Darkin’s Miann (the title comes from the Gaelic word for craving and desire), her first full-length work as artistic director at Scottish Dance Theatre.

Ahead of the lights going down, the prelude sees two dancers stare out into the audience whilst clutching a basket of gently smouldering branches. There is no doubt that this act, followed by their circling the lower stalls at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, set the general mood of the piece in terms of primal anxiety, although I’m not sure it was particularly necessary.

Once the pair disappeared into the depths of backstage, the audience becomes aware of a chained sundial on stage, and a circle of branches which encased the dancers. Here there was safety (from themselves, perhaps) in a space that was created to be shared.

Miann is primal in its bid for space and simultaneous need for proximity. The dancers are bound in their search for an unknown, shunning each other’s touch despite that seeming imperative for their functioning. The ambiguity that emerges could have been an early primal prelude to the work of Jasmin Vardimon, so similar is it in its eclecticism and ambiguous style.

Scottish Dance Theatre in Miann. Photo Brian Hartley

Scottish Dance Theatre in Miann.
Photo Brian Hartley

The movement is thrilling as the dancers strive to simultaneously encroach on and emphasise the space between them. The opening sets the standard. It is high impact with full of desperate jumps, almost as if the dancers were possessed by an ulterior being.

Revealed later, amongst the jarring yet captivating dance, is a patch of grassy earth under the floor. This was an indulgence for the female who revealed it, lost in her own world amongst its blades. The earthy smell which was uncovered was further highlighted by the almost pagan rituals taking place on stage, one dancer chasing another with a crown of flowers, dancers moving in unison across the floor, and one with legs outstretched in a mutilated second position.

Throughout, Darkin’s eloquent programmes notes are realised and heightened by the dancers conjuring of the unknown. They have a commitment that conveys a power greater than the dance itself. The women are particularly enticing with their heavy grounded movements but although the dance is ultimately humanised, it is never pedestrianised.

The incredible strength and stamina of the dancers was unbounded; none withered in embodying the demanding vocabulary. The dancers were volatile and fierce, and did not hold back in their persistence to create a bond between them through their individual journeys. Perhaps each was seeking affirmation, enticing each other before losing faith and turning to another. It is just a shame that the unison work holds less of an impact that the individual moments.

Accompanying the dancers was The One Ensemble, an eclectic mix of accordions, a double base and the human voice. The depth of the soundtrack was a performance in itself, heightening the dancers’ motivations in their twists and struggles against each other, twists and struggles as dark and earthy as the stage set.

The culmination of Miann does not have the strength of the opening. Even so, the whole audience was left with a lasting impression, and each with their personal interpretation of Darkin’s potent work.