In SOLAS by LeineRoebana, which premiered on 2 November at Chassé Breda, communication takes the shape of dance, song, music, text and gesture. Ways of storytelling from the past are used alongside contemporary forms of expression and all the performers borrow from each other: dancers sing, singers dance, musicians speak lines. With gusto and great craftsmanship the piece explores the ways we struggle to connect in many fascinating ways.

The main characteristic of the show is the way communication runs via different forms of expression. There is dance, and formally speaking, there are six dancers on the floor. They run every time they enter the stage, which is one notable feature. And then there are the many steps that start upwards, with a jump. More thoughts on these features below. And then there are spoken texts, in a multitude of languages and translations. And, as often with LeineRoebana, another important factor is the music, which is played and sung live. David Mackor plays the lute and Wiek Hijmans plays guitar. Sometimes they perform solo, sometimes together. Some of their songs are by the 16th century English composer John Dowland while others are their own, newly composed works. Some of the transitions are blunt and direct, while at times, the old goes hand in hand with the new.

The piece places storytelling modes from the past alongside contemporary idioms. Dancer Timon de Ridder delivers his lines while making the stylised gestures that characterised stage playing in the 18th century. Simultaneously, and in complete contrast with De Ridder’s restraint, Kris Mohammed Adem is seen twisting and coiling his body freely on the opposite end of the stage. His posture, rhythms and intensity are entirely different from De Ridder’s. Today we interpret his sudden jacknifing, swinging, lashing movements as freedom, but who knows, an 18th century viewer witnessing him may have thought he was sick. And all the while we contemporaries sit puzzling over De Ridders gestures where these were once a straightforward way of underlining his words.

Let’s return briefly to the group’s running, nearly every time they enter the stage. Does it represent the hurried pace at which we live our lives today? We have such a preference for directness, especially here in the Netherlands. Can it be explained as another instance of this urge towards efficiency – time is money, come on, say what you have to say and let’s move on! Does offstage represent our times, and the dance floor a different era, the performers running from one era into another? The contrast between Hijmans’ sometimes raw and rhythmic guitar playing and the temporal spacing in Mackor’s Renaissance songs on the lute, underlines the differences between the eras.

All the performers borrow from each other to express themselves. I have said that formally speaking here are six dancers. But both singers, mezzosoprano Talitha van de Spek and soprano Elisabeth Hetherington, and the musicians as well at times, dance alongside them: in the ensemble scenes they take the same steps as the dancers and pair these with the same gestures, with good movement quality. Soprano Elisabeth Hetherington shows how movement and singing go hand in hand for her in several scenes. Another surprise is the dancers’ singing. Timon de Ridder is the first to cross over into song, offering a pleasant surprise with a light tenor.

One last scene to remember: Hetherington delivers a sing-song of some lines in old English, Hijmans is sitting across from her, ‘translating’ her words into Dutch. But the translation (by Bindervoet&Henkes) is based on sonic similarity, which means the meaning of his words differs wildly from that of hers. Sonically, his efforts are plausible. This translation offers consonance, not a consolation. It makes you wonder: what is a translator’s task? Should you render word for word, search for equivalence in terms of intention, or try and find closeness of sound? When is a text a translation? Do we all in fact immediately begin to translate as soon as we open our mouths to put into words what we are thinking or feeling? Is laughter or crying a direct means of communication? Is singing closer to laughter and crying than it is to speaking? And what about dancing?

Try as we might, we often don’t quite say what we want to say. But there is room between the long way around and straight directness. A space where we show another telling layer of ourselves. A layer that would go unused if we all communicated directly all the time. This search for the right words, the scramble of words, gestures, tone and colour; it is another way of showing our true selves. SOLAS demonstrates it with ten searching, borrowing, expressive bodies.


This review was published 3 November 2019 on

Photo: Anna van Kooij.

Choreography: Andrea Leine & Harijono Roebana I musical composition: John Dowland, Antoinne Boesset, Wiek Hijmans, Derek Bermel | created in collaboration with: Uri Eugenio, Luana van Eekeren, Andrea Pisano, Timon de Ridder, Myrthe Bokelman, Kris Mohammed Adem (dance) I Talitha van der Spek (mezzo soprano), Elisabeth Hetherington (soprano), Wiek Hijmans (guitar) David Mackor (lute) I text: Erik Bindervoet and Robbert-Jan Henkes I lighting design: Jeroen Smith I gesture: Jed Wentz.