De Voorlopers (the Forerunners)

Inadvertently, the surroundings of the Corrosia cultural centre in Almere proved to set a perfect scene for the performance of De Voorlopers (The Forerunners) on 14 November. In this latest performance by choreographers Uri Ivgi and Johan Greben (IVGI&GREBEN), five individuals are the first to venture out into a faraway, previously uninhabited planet. This Thursday night, the Almere Haven shopping centre was equally deserted. Even Corrosia itself seemed completely empty and quiet, if not for a small sign welcoming visitors.

A similar sense of desolation reverberates on stage, where two shapes (Noa van Tichel and Joan Ferré Gomez) emerge from the dark, wandering around accompanied only by a wispy electronic soundscape by Tom Parkinson. In the left background there is a wall, or a dike, made up of white sandbags (lighting and set design are by Edwin van Steenbergen).

The two dancers could be Mormon settlers, scooping up invisible water with their hands and then raising them up to the sky. Or Adam and Eve, the way they are rolling over each other. Their idyll is rudely disrupted when the levee breaks, with loud creaking noises (which begs the question what, exactly, is in those bags). Three others – Serena Facchini, Robin Nimanong and Winter Wieringa – invade the space and start making a mess, throwing the bags all over the stage.

While the two original settlers start to furiously reorganise the bags, transforming them into walls, the three others are lost in their own worlds, frenetically dancing to their own beat. It is reminiscent of the reality TV show Survivor (which we in the Netherlands know as Expeditie Robinson), where some contestants diligently build and repair huts, forage for food and make fires, while others keep equally busy hanging around, sleeping in the shade of a palm tree, and floating in sea.

All their efforts come to naught. The three threatening ‘Others’ soon penetrate their defences. However, all is not doom and gloom. A few minutes later there is a tentative rapprochement, with the five forerunners circling around each other, approaching one another with their hands outstretched, in a kind of handshake dance.

After that, the construction starts in earnest. The dancers are constantly building and rebuilding, continuously drawing and redrawing the demarcation lines. One moment the dancers can be locked in, bouncing off each other and the walls; the next, they are locked out. Or free. It is all a question of perspective. The walls can be a maze, with all the dancers following in line, like dutiful little soldiers, or rats. Then, suddenly, everyone is separated and isolated, each confined to their own small cubicle.

Ivgy and Greben make good use of the set pieces. De Voorlopers becomes a Petri dish of civilisation. But it all feels too hurried. If only the choreographers had given the middle part a bit more breathing space, like they did with the lyrical duet in the beginning.

For a good example how it could have been done, try to catch up on the performance Mankind by children’s dance company De Stilte (25 March 2020 in Valkenswaard; 4 April in Amsterdam). There, the three dancers use books instead of bags for demarcation lines. Just as with De Voorlopers, the rules of the game are always changing. But unlike De Voorlopers, Mankind takes its time unfolding, keeping it playful yet profound at the same time.

Still, the middle part of De Voorlopers does have some nice touches, especially when the dancers start jumbling together, like one big human statue, and it is no longer clear whose leg is whose. In the leaflet Ivgy and Greben talk about the positive and liberating power of ideals, but except for the beginning, a more haunting, more helpless feeling prevails. Especially near the end, when the white bags split open and reveal their actual contents: not sand, but hundreds of plastic bottles with a black core. The dancers end up being enveloped in a sea of dark plastic waste – when the lights go out at the end the dancers’ movements through the bottles even sound like water lapping on a shore. It makes you wonder: is this really a new, hopeful beginning, or is it just history repeating?


Ivgi & Greben : De Voorlopers. Seen: November 14, Corrosia, Almere.

Photo: Bart Grietens. 

Choreography: Ivgi & Greben I dance: Joan Ferré Gomez, Robin Nimanong, Serena Facchini, Noa van Tichel, Winter Wieringa I dramaturgy: Judith Schoneveld I music composition: Tom Parkinson I lighting and set design: Edwin van Steenbergen I film/video: Jonathan Ivgi.