It isn’t often that you are asked to remove your shoes before a dance performance begins. But MIRE, which premiered Monday January 27 at Korzo Theater during Holland Dance Festival and was made by Swiss choreographer Jasmine Morand, isn’t like any other dance performance.
Towering in the middle of the stage is a big, imposing construction (scenography is by Neda Loncarevic), that looks like the outside of a zoetrope device, one of the earliest, pre-film devices, where you look through the slits of a cylinder and the spinning motion makes it look like the images are moving.
It is possible to watch what’s going on while looking through these vertical cracks in the walls of the construction. But for the best view you really should lie down on one of the yoga mats which have been laid in two circles around the structure. From there, look up at the huge mirrors suspended from the ceiling. They offer a view straight inside the ‘pen’, where twelve nude dancers are standing at attention at the sides, positioned at equal intervals from each other, as if representing the numbers on a clock face.
One by one the dancers lie down, feet towards the centre, their bodies radiating outwards. Slowly they start moving, rolling from their backs to one side and back again, as if they are trying out different sleeping positions. The more time passes, the more intricate their patterns become. Their highly coordinated movements create a kaleidoscopic effect, with the bodies of the dancers folding in and out of each other, in ever more elaborate shapes. Side note: you can find a sped-up excerpt on Youtube, but that doesn’t really do it justice. For one, it is missing the minimal but moody music by Enrique Gonzalez Müller, Patrick Conus and Morand.
The first half of the dance performance/installation is an almost ethereal and zen-like experience, which is even further enhanced by watching the performance while lying down. There is also an interesting disconnect in seeing the dancers via a mirror. It creates the illusion of distance, while in fact the dancers are only few feet away (those positioned on the inner circle of yoga mats can touch the outside of the structure if they stretch their toes). Sometimes you can even feel the vibrations of the movements through the floor.
If MIRE offered only this, the possibility of watching beautiful human patterns from the comfort of a yoga mat, it would make for a logistically inventive, but also rather one-sided experience. But as the performance enfolds, something else happens. The scenes gain in urgency; they become more charged with meaning. The choreography grows messier, with the dancers getting up and moving around, and with bodies piling up on top of each other in twos, threes and sometimes even fours. Their bodies are no longer just tools to fold into aesthetically pleasing shapes. It is not explicitly sexual, but definitely more carnal. It is flesh on top of flesh.
If the beginning of the performance feels like you are looking up at a beautifully living and breathing fresco, the second half feels more like looking down into the abyss. And the abyss is looking back. More and more often, the dancers look up through the mirror at us, the spectators, only visible as shimmering outlines in the dark. In the beginning their gaze is dispassionate, but gradually it becomes all-knowing, an acknowledgment that we are here, watching, peeking. ‘Do you like what you see?’ their stare seems to ask. The slits in the structure suddenly take on a different meaning: they are not the ones from a zoetrope, but the ones you can find in a peep show. From objective observers, we have become accomplices.
Seen: January 27, 2020, Korzo Theater, The Hague. Tour Mire
Photo: Céline Michel