United Kingdom Kiers, As It Empties Out, Jefta van Dinther, Sadler’s Wells/Platform Theatre at Central Saint Martins, London, 01.10.2015 (J.O’D)
Dancers: Linda Adami, Thiago Granato, Naiara Mendioroz Azkarate, Eeva Muilu, Roger Sala Reyner, Jefta van Dinther
Choreography: Jefta van Dinther
Lighting design: Minna Tikkainen
Sound design: David Kiers
Set design: SIMKA
Technical coordinator and technician: Susana Alonso
Artistic advice: Robert Steijn
Costume advice: Jorge Dutor
All music: David Kiers except the track ‘Doorway’ by Planningtorock
Several features of Jefta van Dinther’s As It Empties Out (2014) resemble those seen in the choreographer’s earlier Plateau Effect when it was performed by Cullberg Ballet at Sadler’s Wells last year. The dark curtain that hangs very close to the front of the stage. The song that starts the piece. The suspended ropes or cables on which the dancers strain and pull.
While reusing these elements, As It Empties Out also refines them. The curtain is in place for longer; the dancers appear and disappear, at floor level, under it. The song, sung by one of them, starts with comprehensible language (the words ‘Give yourself’) but very soon mutates into an incoherent keening. In Plateau Effect, the ropes were used to raise or lower the large piece of fabric that formed the curtain. Here, what the dancers are struggling to raise or lower, or maintain in its position, is never seen. A black screen obscures the upper part of the stage. The attention is on the angled bodies and upturned faces below it. Lights shimmer briefly on the floor, as if to suggest the closer proximity of the unseen object. When they fade, the dancers slump.
It is in a later section, though, that the piece really seems to be doing something new. With the auditorium of the Platform Theatre in darkness that feels almost unsafe (it is so very dark), a red-lit figure becomes visible on the stage. Because of the darkness, it is impossible to say how close or far away this figure is, impossible to place yourself in a relationship to it in space. Seen only from the waist up, it twists constantly on the spot. Now its arms are above its head, now at its side. Other, similarly twisting figures appear one by one beside it. Loud noises, as of pumping, rattling, gushing, add to a sense of disorientation that frightens and exhilarates at the same time. You do not watch this section of the piece. You are enveloped by it.
Disorientation, through the use of space, light and sound, is what As It Empties Out aims at, and what it achieves. This extends to its presentation of the human body. The dancer who sings, the first dancer to appear, is revealed looking at the audience from over his shoulder as he stands bending towards the curtain. If his T-shirt and shorts look strangely dated, his extremely high, platform-soled shoes uncanny, it is his eyes that disturb most of all. They are completely covered by black lenses.
Through the clever use lighting, a fake-fur coat and her seated position on the floor at the front of the stage, the woman who performs alone in the final section of the piece looks more like a pale worm, at first, than a human being. As her face and arms become distinguishable under a spot light, the recorded sound of someone speaking can be heard. A gravelly voice, with an American accent, it could be male or female. Sometimes the woman on the stage lip-syncs to the recording. Sometimes she does not.
The voice, which seems to be that of a retired actor, speaks in repeated phrases and half-finished sentences about developing a character. While this goes on, it gradually becomes obvious that the woman on the stage has been imperceptibly moving to the back of it. So, in the world of As It Empties Out there is nothing to hold on to, spatially, visually or aurally, nothing to get a grasp on. It seems fitting, under these circumstances, that the last thing the voice says is that clichéd phrase about the difficulty of really knowing ‘what makes someone tick’.