Walking into a packed Borgarleikhús to see the premiere of Sigga Soffía’s new work ‘Kafli 2: og himininn kristallast’ (“Chapter 2: And The Sky Crystallizes”), I was surrounded by the excited whispers of little girls, middle-aged couples, and cool twentysomethings. Interviewing the choreographer, Sigga Soffía, before the show, I had some idea of what to expect, but I was eager to see how the dancers would transform the excitement and energy of fireworks into movement.
The show is the second part of a piece called ‘Stjörnubrim og himinninn kristallast’. When asked to describe “stjörnubrim,” Sigga Soffía explained that it comes from a poem by revered poet Davíð Stefánsson (1895-1964). The term is a composite of the words for star and the perilous white froth of a wave that sinks ships out at sea. The first part, the “stjörnubrim,” was the Vodafone fireworks display at Culture Night this past August, in collaboration with the search and rescue team HSSR. For this second part, she collaborated with Iceland Dance Company (ID), aiming to produce a similar effect through dance.
Setting the stage
In the style of classic musicals, the opening scene was an overture of sorts. The curtains opened to an empty set with suspended cloud of bubbles and fog cascading off the lip of the stage, all to soft music, creating a dream-like ambience. Without dancers, the scene remained visually interesting via lights shining into the bubbly cloud, giving the impression of being in heaven. The opening was beautiful, but the heavy reliance on props and effects continued throughout the show, often distracting from the dancers.
Sigga Soffía explained how set designer Helgi Már Kristinsson created the bubbly cloud sculpture as a backdrop for lighting, much like Sigga uses smoke to build landscapes to light up in her fireworks displays. At one point during the performance the sculpture was released and the bubbles spilled down onto the stage. “And just like the smoke in the wind, we cannot control where the sculpture lands on the stage. So we also have this element of excitement, will the dancers be affected, will the sculpture be in front of them, or work with them,” she said.
The phrases of movement were excellent, smoothly alternating between breathy and athletic. You could really see the dancers reaching beyond their personal space with every step. “In my mind there is a close connection between fireworks and the classical dancer,” Sigga said, explaining her choice of using classical ballet vocabulary. From where I was sitting, any real ballet technique was well hidden beneath contemporary styles and influences. However, the precision and flowing quality of classical dance were definitely present.
Undoubtedly, the two main highlights of the performance were the solos by Hjördís Lilja Örnólfsdóttir and Halla Þórðardóttir. Each dancer was assigned one kind of firework as inspiration. Throughout the performance, Hjördís was dressed in a fluffy, white, layered costume that made her look more like a cake-topper than an explosion. Then, just before her solo, concealed LED lights lit up the costume and transformed her into an elegant and graceful wisp. She did not execute any spectacular jumps or poses, but rather spun around the stage in gentle, concentric circles. The effect was truly beautiful.
Halla’s solo, by contrast, had a much different dynamic. Sigga described Halla’s “character” to me as “Falling Leaves, which is a like a slow cloud of glitter.” In a costume of a unitard covered in small mirror-like flags, her powerful solo was performed weaving in and out of beams of lights like a disco ball. But, if you strip away the costume and the set you would still have Halla seamlessly moving through luxurious extensions and magnificent jumps.
Don’t tell me, show me
Most new contemporary works I have seen have had some form of dialogue, with the dancers either uttering obscure poetic phrases to complement the music, or acting out a scripted scene between dance pieces. ‘Kafli 2’ took this one step further with a narrator. For me, this was a poor choice. It explained too much and did not leave enough to the imagination. Rather than letting the audience draw connections between the similarities of dancers and fireworks, the narration bluntly stated what should have been left to the choreography to illustrate.
Dance is by nature more obscure than other art forms. If a painter is moved by a sunset he can draw a picture, an actor can talk about it, but the challenge of choreography is to describe the sunset through movement.
“It’s so beautiful, but tragic to be a firework. They are shot up into the sky, spring out and bloom before decaying swiftly into nothingness. They give themselves to their audience. The same can be said of a dancer that dedicates their life to tuning their body into a perfect instrument. They train, they flourish, but always tire before their time,” Sigga Soffía explains when asked about the motivation behind the piece.
What she explained in these five sentences, the narration drew out over entire sections of the piece. The description of a dancer’s fleeting career carried out so long that it came across as jaded or apathetic: “I do not enjoy it anymore. I crave the attention and pain. I crave your eyes on me.” The narrator then detailing the chemical make-up of the fireworks was akin to a US senator reciting the phone book during a filibuster.
This is not to say that narration would not be a welcome addition to many works where the choreographer fails to get the point across. I imagine announcing during the opening act of ‘La Sylphide’ that “It’s all about a magical scarf and a prince who leaves his fiancée for a ghost,” would clear up a few valid confusions later on and all in all make it a more enjoyable show. But, Sigga Soffía did such a great job with the choreography that the narration was unnecessary. The movement had grand displays followed by weariness showing the fireworks’—and dancers’—awe-inspiring, yet limited, lifespan.
Ultimately, I give it three out of five stars. The narration was unnecessary and the set was too heavily relied on. This is not to say the costumes or props were in anyway poor quality—any performance that credits a “pyrotechnician” is bound to be impressive—but that it became more of a distraction than an aid. The strength of the piece was definitely the choreography, and it should have been allowed to stand on its own.
‘Kafli 2: og himininn’
Iceland Dance Company
December 2 & 5 at 20:00
Borgarleikhúsið (Reykjavík City Theatre)