Iceland Dance Company launches the season with The Simple Act of Letting Go
It begins with simply one person, one man, alone on stage, standing still and staring into space. Suddenly he breaks with a startle of kinetic, stomping dance steps but only for a brief moment. Then stillness returns. The pattern repeats unpredictably, the series of steps replicating and building on itself each time, striking a power-pose at the end. Scattered, apprehensive laughter comes from the audience. The recurrence of action and abandon ends as he turns his back to the audience and walks to the rear of the stage. Eight people then emerge from the wings, each carrying a mic stand.
Thus completes the opening gambit of The Simple Act of Letting Go, a new show by Israeli choreographer Tom Weinberger. The piece was commissioned by the Iceland Dance Company and opens their 2023-2024 dance season on Sunday, September 10 at Borgarleikhúsið, the company’s home base.
Sandcastles of drama
“I think there’s a lot of humour pockets in this piece,” says Tom following the general run-through of the piece last spring. “I’m also hoping that with time and the performances happening more, the dancers experiencing it more, that humour will come out more.”
The show carries a consistent theme of buildup and dissolution, which gradually pulls each of the performers from their backline behind a microphone to the forefront, creating different narratives, timelines and structures.
“It’s like we build these drama sandcastles and then we dissolve them the moment after,” says Tom. “I enjoy going into epic, emotional, physical states and then dismantling them in a way, as another manifestation of how everything is temporary. Just the building and the decomposing. I enjoy seeing it. I enjoy sensing it in my body.”
Words are meaningless
As the presence of the microphones that the performers stand still behind suggest, the use of voice, in particular speech, are prominent within the performance. The words and sentences uttered feel fragmented and collaged, as does text that is intermittently projected on the backdrop.
“I’ve heard someone say to me that the work is reminding them of post-modern theatre but I’ve never been into theatre, in classes or anything,” he says with a bemused shrug and laugh. “It’s hard to testify, as an artist, about the work. In the past couple of years I’ve been embarking into a more theatrical research kind of thing. I don’t think of it as theatre as much as there is an impulse to include language, text and vocal work equally as there is an impulse to generate movement.”
He says that this direction and gradual progression of incorporating words — both written and spoken — into performance was not a conscious choice, but that it was something in his toolbox he’s now learning to use and incorporate.
“I used to show up to the dance studio with socks and sweatpants,” he goes on. “Now in the last couple of years, I show up with my socks, my sweatpants and a microphone. I’m interested in like how the words empower and elevate the direct movement, and vice versa. When you say a sentence and then move right away afterwards, moving right at that instant is the immediate reflection of that sentence on what your body’s doing.”
Tom himself originates from a small suburb between Haifa and Tel Aviv that he describes as “nothing to write home about”, but lived an incredibly nomadic existence for a decade. Living literally out of one suitcase and having no fixed address, he travelled all over the world for roughly 340 days of the year, working as a freelance dance artist, only returning to Israel to change clothes and quickly see friends.
“It was a combination of wanting to leave certain things behind, try new things, and the demands of being a freelance artist,” he says. “Also just a curiosity to experience languages, people and landscapes, only to come back home and to understand your DNA, the complexity of it, the beauty of it, what there is to celebrate and understand that there’s other ways of living life.”
However, like the rest of the world, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to return to his birth land and let go of the life he had grown accustomed to. Stripped of his residency status and unable to work or go on the dole, he went from being a steadily earning artist to having no income.
“It was absolutely not simple,” he laughs as I quip the name of the show’s title being his act of letting go. “It was a very intense moment. I went from being the cliché idea of a nomadic Jewish wanderer. I couldn’t find rest. The signs of restlessness were already showing in my body. It was telling me to rethink this plan, let gravity have room in my life.”
Invited into the chat
The sense of Tom being forced to give in to this gravity feels very prescient in the work, in retrospect. Through the various physical combinations of performers inhabiting the “scenes” and the open-ended questions and statements the viewer is confronted with, there is a very palpable tension between a resistance against giving in and the obviousness of detaching.
“I tried very much to kind of minimise the line between audience and the work,” says Tom, as I share how much I internally responded and viscerally reacted to performance. “I wanted it to be a conversation. Going back to the execution of the dancers, at the beginning and when you are stressed from when it’s still up [on the surface] it becomes more of a performative act, less of a conversations. As feedback, I would say ‘try to see what happens if you’re having a conversation, you’re not performing for someone, you’re inviting them into a conversation.’ I think that with time and running the piece, it can really become a conversation.”
The Simple Act of Letting Go premieres Sunday, Sept. 10 at Borgarleikhúsið. Find tickets on tix.is
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