Thursday, February 28, 2008
I went to see Borrowed Light last night, as part of the Perth Festival. Three things in life and the arts that I do adore are sacred choral music; challenging dance styes; and austere theology (no, seriously). Borrowed Light, by the Tero Saarinen Dance Company, fit all three. Borrowed Light was an exploration of the Shaker beliefs and lifestyle. An early music ensemble, the Boston Camerata provide live vocal accompaniment in the form of Shaker music some of which has never been heard outside the Shaker community and even then not for 150 years. Imagine something between Gregorian chants and middle-English folk music (I tried so hard to find an audio clip, but nothing forthcoming). And imagine that the singers are on stage, moving through and with the dancers sometimes.
Saarinen draws heavily on Kabuki for his choereographic language, which I think explains the awkward angles, flat feet and splayed hands. It was difficult to settle into, especially given that the first five minutes or so are performed completely in silence. The dancing was heavy and awkward. I only noticed two jumps in the entire performance - the dancers always had one foot on the ground, unless another dancer was lifting them, which was never done gracefully or easily. They barely walked when they could hobble, or limp. Once you got accustomed to it it was stunningly beautiful. I've never seen so much emphasis placed on the mere movement of individual fingers. I also loved that in a virtually abstract environment I could still discern stories and themes - loss of faith; the outsider; a struggle for grace.
Not only that, but the dancers themselves provide what percussive accompaniment there is, stamping, clapping, and, at one point, throwing their entire body on the floor. Breathing, too, was sometimes audible (and I was in the back row of the stalls). Apparently the floor is miked, which makes sense.
The costumes were dark and heavy. The men's coats were entirely made of felt, and they obscured the body for the most part. The women's skirts were part weighted-down felt, part what seemed to be pleated silk. Their shoes were heavy. The lighting was often stark and directional, like sun rays falling through meeting hall windows.
It was just beautiful.