A double-bill in the Dance Reflections festival unintentionally pairs two pieces in which you feel the minutes very slowly passing. In Boris Charmatz’s Infini, the performers themselves are tracking those passing moments. A dancer’s life is soundtracked by counts, but these dancers are on a journey way past “5-6-7-8”. They count out numbers from the smallest fractions towards infinity, rising and falling, doubling back and changing direction like an Escher staircase. The digits resonate as ages, years, historical anniversaries, countdowns, counting sheep, and move towards anticipated climaxes, time racing and slowing.
It’s all very clever, a feat of concentration for the performers who are also cavorting around in snatches of dance moves – from ballet to krump to playing an invisible violin – with a general air of absurdity. The experience of watching teeters between interesting and irritating; you can sometimes feel the sense of eternity the choreographer is exploring. A stage full of spinning flickering lights are physically difficult to watch. “Tiring,” said my friend. Later she amended herself: “Tiresome.”
Serafine1369, AKA Jamila Johnson-Small, creates work for galleries (recently Tate Britain) where audiences can immerse themselves for a short time. In the theatre, it’s more like being held captive. A dimly lit stage, the sound of pelting rain, Johnson-Small and Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome alternately marking out movements on the spot, focus turned inward, listening to their insides. Among other things, When We Speak I Feel Myself, Opening is interested in the smallest sensory experiences, many invisible to the viewer.
In gnomic fragments of blank-voiced narration, Johnson-Small recounts a piece of a dream, musings on the gaze, a few lyrics from East 17. The overall impression is one of numbness, but a numbness that covers a deep well of anger or pain. It’s a solipsistic investigation, but also tacitly railing against everything that’s wrong in the world. A piece of resistance, deliberately uninterested in connection; a manifesto with most of the pages missing. Johnson-Small is not playing the game, the dancers don’t even come back for a bow once they have left the stage. There’s something admirable about it all – you want to get inside Johnson-Small’s head, but you’re firmly shut out.