Breath. What is not seen? What is taken for granted? What is repressed? What, through years of neglect, vanishes as its protest?
To breathe. We love to love what we do not know. We hate to love what sustains us.
To breathe to death. Exhale: water molecules voided into oxygenic abyss.
Dry smoke and wind-sound pan across the spacious Borgarleikhúsið as dim dawn-yellow light creeps across the stage to drag something from darkness.
That something is oversized, multi-bodied, spectral living sculpture. Nine somethings pull themselves to crawling long tones; their beaten forms foretell the coming of the drawn and quartered.
Iceland Dance Company premiered ‘Transaquania: Into Thin Air’ on October 7, a new theatrical dance production authored by Erna Ómarsdóttir, Damien Jalet, and Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, with music by Valdimar Jóhannsson and Ben Frost. Early, gripping success in ‘Transaquania: Into Thin Air’ was evident as the dragged (drugged?) somethings reached their trembling forms toward heaven, and the collapse to the ground to lay still and then swarm in their burlap skins and wombs. This haunting gesture rendered all nine shrouded dancers as extra-human, deformed and grotesque as they thrust their foetal appendages against dry uterine walls.
With ‘Into Thin Air’ collaborators Erna Ómarsdóttir, Damien Jalet, and Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, (whose previous collaborative credits include Ófætt in 2005, created for Theatre National de Bretagne and the Venice Biennale) expose a surprising shift in use of the dancer’s form. Here, the artistic team offers the audience a look at how to make human bodies not bodies, at asensuality. The score growls and warbles an unsettling baritone.
Out of this opening sequence follows a series of stunning acts. All nine somethings proceed through multiple metamorphoses to reveal their alien selves, barely alive and barren. The consistently skin-tight flesh-toned costumes cause a dizzying, perfect incongruence with the asensual choreography – expert execution of the artistic team’s collective vision to explore human reality in a post-water existence.
Dancers’ movements are at times reminiscent of water but no longer in the water, as the land-locked sea-legs tremble, epileptic, from repetitive violence turned ritual. They roll, spin, jump. They lift and support one another. And in a pivotal sequence, head-banging becomes rite, the ultimate communal maturation.
As the evolving humans birth into their horrific reality, all elements of the performance (sound, movement, visual in costume, props, and lights) conspire to present the swirling, whirling confusion of conception. Then, later, as the suck and bounce of early life turns parasitic and violent, the creative team again deftly translates this into a chilling mirror, where the audience is invited to confront themselves with psychoanalytic subjectivity. Thin voice wheezes and screams into air.
Breath. To breathe. To breathe in this death.
Applause at the end of ‘Into Thin Air’ feels a decidedly inadequate response. From anal fixation and asphyxiation ‘Into Thin Air’ is a work crafted of rare and challenging vision to raise questions and concerns about awareness, to propose dialogue and inner monologue around how now is and how else it may be. Here we consider our own adaptability and our subsequent clumsy, addictive rituals. Here we explode our monotony in whimpering hope that we wake up tomorrow brand new.