From Iceland — Third Time’s The Charm

Third Time’s The Charm

Published February 20, 2015

A Review Of walk+talk Reykjavík

Third Time’s The Charm
Anna Manning
Photo by
Gadi Dagon

A Review Of walk+talk Reykjavík

This past weekend I attended ‘walk+talk’ at Borgarleikhúsið as part of the Reykjavík Dance Festival (RDF). I knew very little about the performance but was eager to see it after Ásgerður Gunnarsdóttir, one of the artistic directors of RDF, said it was one of the pieces she was most excited to see.

It was set on the same stage as ‘TAUGAR’, but had a much different feel. The house lights were on and there were no props or curtains on the stage. This set up gave the space a much more intimate, black box feel, but was actually also very much like a university lecture.

walk+talk is a series by Philipp Gehmacher that began in 2008. The performance was divided up into three 40 minute solos, with short intermissions in between. Each solo was a choreographer talking about their thoughts on movement (or anything else) while moving around the stage.

Erna Ómarsdóttir

Erna Ómarsdóttir began her solo with a series of intermittently tense awkward poses followed by an audible release. She then smacked herself in the face, walked to the front of the stage and announced, “I’m standing on stage and I take my skin off and I’m standing naked in front of the audience and I smile”. The entire presentation followed this structure. Self-harm followed by a vulnerable confession.

What kept the performance from seeming overly self-effacing or even pitiful was the humour she brought to it. In one section she would enter the ‘black yoga screaming cabinet’, and scream bloody-murder for several minutes, but then reflect on the movements she found herself doing while screaming: “I often move my hand like this when I scream, I think it’s because I used to do sports as a teenager” or “I like to dance when I scream…” After a while the screaming became less dire and more like when kids decide they have found a neat sound and continue to carry-on.

“I’m standing on stage and I take my skin off and I’m standing naked in front of the audience and I smile”

The first half of the piece was great, and had it ended there I would have nothing but good things to say about it. Unfortunately, 40 minutes is just too long. After about 25 minutes the audience became visibly bored. They were twiddling their thumbs, checking their phones, and squirming in their seats trying to find a way to rest their heads. Not wanting to pull out my own phone, I found myself trying to see the time on the girl’s phone near me while she was looking at a backlog of Snapchats. At one point Erna said, “what time is it?” to herself and about 30% of the audience pulled out a watch or phone. The problem wasn’t that 40 minutes is too long for a solo, but that there wasn’t enough diversity in what was happening on stage. The vast majority of movement was headbanging, which can only be interesting for so long.

The most outrageous thing she did was finishing the piece by pulling her breast out of her top and drinking from it. The movement was disconnected from the rest of the piece and came across as a desperate way to evoke a response from the audience at the last minute. Gestures, like this, are meant to be shocking and in a different context I would have considered it artistic and courageous, but what could have been an interesting commentary on ideas about breastfeeding or nudity came across more like a teenage girl bringing her new tattooed, rocker boyfriend home to meet the parents.

Philipp Gehmacher

After Erna’s piece I was especially excited to see Philipp’s solo. He has been performing walk+talks since 2008, so I expected that his piece would be a bit more ironed out and audience-friendly.

His work deals with finding a movement language. He explained that it was not fashionable in the 90s or 00s to talk about ‘movement language’ because it meant you thought you had your own style or were unique, but now it that focus in modern choreography has shifted to ‘presence’, this is more acceptable.

At the most basic level, the piece was very comfortable to watch. His movement was very slow and lazy; the dialogue, while difficult to follow, was soft and even and felt like the music that was otherwise absent. However, if you tried to decipher the dialogue, rather than treating it like background music, it felt very much like a monologue audition piece for a low-budget play. It was obvious that he had memorised the entire speech, and there is nothing wrong with that, but he recited it as if he didn’t quite understand what it meant or how it should be delivered. As I understand it, the point of walk+talk is for choreographers to voice their own opinions on movement, but he seemed to be just about as comfortable with his own feelings about movement as English students are with Hamlet.

If nothing else, this piece left me with a lesson in the importance of costume design. Philipp wore light khakis and a coral pink t-shirt. The outfit suited him well, and played along with the idea of an informal lecture quite nicely. At one point he sat down on the floor with his back to the audience and displayed a very obvious plumber’s crack. At this point about ten young women began laughing uncontrollably. There was a similar reaction to ‘TAUGAR’, but here with the house lights up and without music it felt less appropriate.

Margrét Bjarnadóttir

The third and final solo is what made sitting through the entire show worth it. She began by saying recently she has focused on writing and visual arts “yet many people insist I am a dancer”. She said maybe it’s because they like the idea of knowing a dancer and she’s the closest thing, but that they have never seen her dance, as she exaggerates difficulty with a very basic step. My friend leaned over to describe the piece as stand-up comedy for dancers, as Margrét executed a beautiful and graceful movement while saying, “I like ballet but it’s a bit like studying to be an alien”. From then on we were in stitches, and fortunately in this piece the laughing was entirely appropriate.

She explained that she stopped performing at 19 due to scopophobia, a fear of being watched, which is “a ridiculous phobia for a dancer to have”. On choreography, she described having no idea why you are doing what you are doing “and you have a feeling the choreographer doesn’t know either”. She declared after realising this that, “I thought to myself, I will never go on stage not knowing why I’m there” only to turn around wander aimlessly and awkwardly around the stage.

“I like ballet but it’s a bit like studying to be an alien”

She described a piece she created while studying choreography where she choreographed a piece and then performed it after consuming various alcohols. She reported that after drinking an entire bottle of red wine the movement was all very emotional; after drinking an equivalent amount of beer the movement was very sloppy and she began speaking to the audience; then after drinking an equivalent amount of vodka she woke up the next morning in full costume convinced she had slept through performance only to find video footage of herself performing the piece perfectly. This is a piece I would be very interested in seeing!

Not only was her monologue so much more entertaining than the preceding ones, she also danced a lot more. There was very little dance in either of the first two pieces, mostly because they were not really talking about dance. Movement maybe, but not dance.

All in all, what this dance performance was really missing was dance.

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