Dieselverkstaden, Stockholm, Sweden; November 7, 2014

Maggie Foyer

Jonas Örknér and Anna Jirmanova in 'Middle of Nowhere'.  Photo © Bengt Wanselius

Jonas Örknér and Anna Jirmanova in ‘Middle of Nowhere’.
Photo © Bengt Wanselius

Norrdans, is one of Sweden’s smaller regional companies based in Härnösand in the frozen north. However they have a well-earned reputation for punching above their weight and next year will celebrate a decade of presenting exciting and innovative choreography.

In Stockholm, they performed at Dieselverkstaden, a versatile theatre space in a regenerated industrial estate to the east of the city. “Middle of Nowhere” is Brazilian/Swedish Fernando Melo’s first choreography for the company. His “Boxman” written for GöteborgsOperans Danskompani in 2008 gave a hint of his fertile imagination and interesting use of structure but in his new work he reaches greater heights of confidence and sophistication.

For this production, the stage area is dissected laterally and the audience view first the action on one side, then after interval change over to view the obverse side. The sounds, musical, electronic or other, filter through. Sharp footsteps in heeled boots on one side translate as knocking at a door on the other. A metronome is at the foreground of attention at one table while it forms merely a rhythmic background in the other interior. On several occasions the central divide opens to allow brief interchange and some characters appear in both settings; the detailing is clever and the result is dramatic.

The dancers, in nineteenth century dress, and the interiors are all in monochrome, reminiscent of the works of Danish painter, Vilhelm Hammershøi, and equally enigmatic. The formal period dress and manners sustain a running subtext as each character fights to maintain their position while manipulating and undermining others. Things are rarely what they seem. The silent maidservants aggressively manipulate their mistress, Anna Jirmanova, who maintains a serene autocratic exterior. Angelina Allen and Jonas Örknér seem intent on their game of one-upmanship but then slip beneath the table signalling their desire only in hands and feet. When the tablecloth is later removed – purloined by the other side to wrap the stripped down mistress – the pair are revealed in a lovers’ embrace on the floor.

Melo develops an elaborate ‘sign language’ which accentuates the conversation but most effective is the manipulation of the chairs and tables as the dancers walk confidently across the surfaces, roll over the tops and slip through the gaps between. The joint production, accredited to both Melo and designer Patrick Kinmouth, attests to the depth of collaboration needed to make this work.

Angelina Allen, Jakub Mędrzycki, Björn Nilsson, Toby Fitzgibbons, Javier Perez and Jonas Örknér in 'Middle of Nowhere'. Photo © Bengt Wanselius

Angelina Allen, Jakub Mędrzycki, Björn Nilsson, Toby Fitzgibbons, Javier Perez and Jonas Örknér in ‘Middle of Nowhere’.
Photo © Bengt Wanselius

Assigned to the ‘red’ side, I watched Allen as the sole female in the company of formally suited men. She arrives, a slight figure with her luggage, bonnet, boots and veil and quickly establishes herself with quiet authority. The men, one manservant and the rest, possibly suitors, become quite competitive, bullying Javier Perez to the point of pinioning him under an upturned table. The movements are full of expression. Björn Nilsson thrusts a leg across the table top with the insistence of a fist banged on the surface. Then cradling his knee, he rotates his leg fully from side to side in a movement; sensual and full of latent aggression. One of the chief delights of the production is the depth of character and focus that each of the excellent cast maintains.

On the other side, the scene shifts to a predominantly female environment. The maid servants, Angela Tampelloni and Leila Verlinden, make a terrifying duo. In violent physical language they shift tables and chairs, their position somewhere between the subservient and the destructive while Jirmanova, delivers a performance of striking detachment. She allows them to undress her and Örkén enters, nudging her passive body into gentle response. The work is post-modern in the way that nothing is finally concluded or fully explained and boundaries are liminal. Throughout there are images that disturb and arouse but the work is never less than totally engaging.