Hubert Essakow’s IGNIS, developed in collaboration with three dancers and actor/poet Sara Kestelman, fuses contemporary dance and spoken word in a piece inspired by fire. Fire is a theme seen throughout the piece, in the design – literally, there’s real fire! – and echoed in the vivid, fleeting choreography. Fire also serves as the broader emotional theme of the piece, which explores first love, love lost, betrayal, memory and ageing – fires burning bright, rekindled, and extinguished.
A lone dancer, Noora Kela, appears on stage in complete darkness, lying on her back on the oil-slick black plastic flooring. Bathed in orange light, she seems to glow. Her languorous movements quicken and then falter almost thoughtfully, as if she’s calculating her next move. As the flame she embodies burns higher, she finds her feet and catches sight of herself in the mirrored back wall. When she gets closer, her reflection shifts – suddenly, Kela’s young face disappears, and while we see her supple, muscular body from behind, the face reflected is older, wiser and more world-worn. As Sara Kestelman’s mature voice rings out across the audience, it seems as though she has appeared from nowhere. Kela’s youth suddenly seems fleeting and transient as it becomes clear that she and Kestelman are one and the same person, face-to-face from either end of a life. Suddenly, Lukasz Przytarksi and Jordi Calpe Serrats flicker into view, flanking Kestelman, as if the three are on film.
Together on the dance floor, the three dancers sway lithely, snaking around one another, curving and arching their spines, alternately wavering and burning intensely. Kestelman watches Kela – her own, younger self or a misremembered memory of herself? – dance with the two men as feelings are sparked and a relationship is kindled. Their fun, smiling ménage à trois is quickly filled with jealous glances from Przytarksi while Kela and Serrats play out a passionate relationship on the brink of violence.
Kestelman’s poetry punctuating the piece gave it a distinct sense of character and storyline. While everything the dancers do is fresh and immediate, Kestelman dwells on deep emotion – her glassy grey-green eyes seem to well up with the deep sadness of love lost as she sings about “time etching into middle years”. The dancers, too, invest deeper emotion than may be expected of a contemporary dance piece: genuine smiles, jealous glances and sighs of desire. Finally, a striking moment of self-recognition springs up between Kela and Kestelman, before Kestelman is left alone once again, looking back at her memories across the divide.
A line of real fire, lit by Przytarksi in the final moments, blazes along the back wall as the story plays out. Both its light and heat are reflected by the mirrored wall, and the ending of the piece is hot and intense.
The design elements of IGNIS are outstanding; Lee Newby has done a stellar job. The slick black flooring is so reflective it looks almost like water, ready to extinguish any escaped fire. The depth of darkness achieved in blackout and the minimal lighting focus attention and enhance the action on stage, making the intimate space all the more intense. The multipurpose reflective back wall, tilted forward slightly, provides both an extension of the space and another viewing angle of the action. Moreover, the two-way panel that seems to dissolve in the centre at key moments allows us to see the performers through the screen as if they are on film. They appear more detailed yet further away, like a memory, hazy round the edges. The first use of this device is breathtaking. As is the last, for it is not overused (as I imagine the temptation would be). The only flaw is that Ignis is staged in thrust and the panel won’t work from the sides – the ushers actually moved audience members before the start.
There is a whole array of wonderment in IGNIS, but rather than describe everything, I suggest you see it yourself. IGNIS is showing at The Print Room, London, now until March 1st.
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