Firstly, I would like to stress: I love choreographer Keren Levi’s inquisitive mind. Especially when she is looking for the overlap between movement, music and sound – usually with long-time artistic collaborator and musician Tom Parkinson. Her stepping off point for UNMUTE, that saw its premiere at the Dutch Dance Festival (Nederlandse Dansdagen) in Maastricht on Wednesday 3 October at AINSI, may be her most ambitious yet. This time it is a collaboration between Levi, Slagwerk Den Haag and composer and sound artist Yannis Kyriakides.
Kyriakides and Levi went on a quest: creating a soundscape by movement, with the help of the five performers (three dancers, two percussionists) and five metal plates hanging suspended from the ceiling. Each performer has a sensor on his or her upper arm, with which they can create and manipulate sounds. The software was developed especially for UNMUTE by audiovisual artist Darien Brito.
The performance starts with all five performers tapping softly on the metallic plates. A female dancer (Eva Susova) turns around, revealing a black bracelet on her arm. This bracelet is one of the sensors, which she can switch on by making a gesture that looks like she is screwing in a light bulb. A female voice starts reciting different languages and dialects. ‘Judeo-Berber. Maori. West Friesian. Bavarian.’ With every subtle move Susova makes, the sound also, subtly, changes. Each performer has a different sound database. For Charlie Laban-Trier it is more of a static, swooshing sound, that, depending on the motion, distorts – it reminded me of musicians performing with a theremin.
The central idea is intriguing, making a dance performance in which not only movement, but also sound is a fluid and malleable concept. But its execution is wanting. Apart from a few moments where you are not really sure if it is the sound following the dancer, or the other way around, the performance never seems to get past the conceptual stage. The movements remain pretty static – mainly focused on the arm that contains the motion sensor – and isolated. While the sounds fit naturally together, the performers mostly keep to themselves, except near the end.
During the whole of the performance, the soundscape is much more compelling, complex and creative than the movements. Blending in with the sounds created using the sensors, percussionists Fedor Teunisse and Marianna Soroka are adding their own sounds, by manipulating the plates with a violin bow and a brush usually used in drumming. Soroka is also a pretty impressive singer and xylophone player.
If UNMUTE were just about creating a beautiful and complex soundscape with bodies, it would have been one thing. But this concept is counteracted by a slightly puzzling underlying morale: the loss of language. It is made quite literal in Susova calling out all the different languages and dialects, half of which, the sound bites from dancer Matthew Day inform us, will have disappeared one hundred years from now.
Leaving aside the question if dance, a medium that so easily transcends language, is the best vehicle to talk about language loss, UNMUTE feels overly pedantic (do the five plates that are hoisted down near the end embody all the languages being lost?), more suited maybe for a classroom than a stage.
Seen: October 3, AINSI, Maastricht.
Photo: Eti Steinberg
Concept and musical composition: Yannis Kyriakides - concept and choreography: Keren Levi - performers: Eva Susova, Charlie Laban Trier, Matthew Day, Fedor Teunisse (Slagwerk Den Haag), Marianna Soroka.