Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

ImMortal

Created by Firenza Guidi for NoFitState Circus , Pontypridd , June-08-04
ImMortal by Created by Firenza Guidi for NoFitState Circus Emotion. Energy. And movement — lasting impressions from visual artist Firenza Guidi’s recent work, Immortal, which I viewed on the opening night of the show, May 12 at the Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd, Wales. In this piece that Firenza created for the NoFitState Circus, she combines varied elements and different media that make for a richer viewing experience. At the heart of the piece is a gripping performance by trapeze artists who explore the space of a circus and through that a beyond…to the depths of experience, sensation and feeling. Immortal traverses vast moments of being. And in doing this it very subtly leads the viewer more towards the intangible.

Immortal is difficult to discuss. It hangs on to you, in a very personal way, even after it’s over. Very summarily and simply, which is no way indicates its immensity or depth, the piece parallels a journey — one the audience not only sees unfold, but participates in by being exercised both metaphorically and literally. All the elements of the show make for points of invitation into this journey, such that like the performers who circulate in and inhabit every bit of the space, the viewer too is compelled to move for keeping up with the performance and through that, visiting and revisiting diverse spaces, times and sensations.

Given Firenza’s specialism in site-specific performances, it is her approach to the space itself that is central in motivating the varied dynamics of movement within the larger visual experience. This approach comprises a kind of an unpacking, a meditation, in terms of the site’s specificity and associations. Backed by a spread of performances she has developed in countries across the world, Firenza invests in Immortal latent meanings and significance/s akin to the shapes (the circle) and patterns of the circus space that are derived from disparate socio-cultural milieus. I am reminded here especially of the second half of the show when an earthen pot is broken evoking and extending the experience of death. Firenza’s impulse coincides with and can be traced in the Hindu rites of death wherein the action metonymically stands in for the transmigration of the soul and its merger within the vast ocean of existence or Brahman.

Earlier in the piece Firenza depicts two brides, contrasting in form: the first occupies an elaborate white costume with hoops that support flowing fabric, which touches the ground even while the performer’s body is above it. The second bride is dressed in a simple black outfit that in colour and construction juxtaposes with the first making for a strong vertical formation. Both the brides circulate in the air supported by gear that suspends them. Here again are resonances from a traditional Hindu wedding, wherein the bride and groom make vows in front of a sacred fire and walk around it seven times. This act bonds them together for eternity with the movement around the fire symbolising completeness — for a circle has no beginning or end. In moments such as this Firenza reveals great prudence and sensitivity to cultural dynamics. It is Immortal’s narrative coherence that facilitates the intercultural responses and exchanges while at the same time prompts re-working and embedding them in the piece.

More broadly, Immortal is a montage of disparate elements including a mix of media. The interactions between the media not only enliven the space, but in doing that push them to the edge and extend their particular scope such that all the elements stand in complimentary relation to each other. The circus-based performance, video animation, props exaggerated in scale… all comprise a kind of organic composition that is a distinct entity wherein it is hard to identify and separate individual parts.

Immortal abounds with juxtapositions that are enacted at a physical level, but effect in stimulating the viewer emotionally. Their force, timing and sustenance impact the viewer very emphatically at a subtle level which only indicates how delicately the piece has been conceived and threaded. One example is from one of the most poignant moments when a performer develops a movement on the cloud swing. A fine balance between the ‘physical’ i.e. the action and the ‘subtle’ in terms of meaning and stimulus, is achieved here through a daring use of sound — the performer’s own breath, which builds as the movement progresses. The commendable acumen and ease displayed by the performer aside; it is the aural atmosphere motivated by the sequence that overpowers the viewer and engulfs her in a scope of associations and meanings.

Formally the sequence is clean and exercises an economy of inputs. As it develops it builds the pure movement and sound towards an utterly primal, unrestrained sensation. Until it peaks, the sequence steadily renders the viewer almost mesmerized. The dynamism of the physical movement and the accompanying aural atmosphere combine to contradictorily still the viewer. This ‘still-ing’ of the viewer does not stem from anticipation. Rather, by immersing the viewer it leads her beyond the physical confines of space and time generally and the performance’s location specifically.

In those moments it was as though one had transcended the material and bodily dimensions of being. Any emotional or intellectual associations that this sequence or the piece as such may have motivated slowly dissolved as the action progressed. It was the delayed applause prompted by some sections of the audience that aided others to be reinstated back into the act of viewing as the performer descended from her gear. As I gathered in interactions after the show, I was not isolated in this response though the degrees of involvement varied among viewers.

Through such modes of interaction with the viewer Immortal achieved its intentions. It boldly depicted anything that could be held and understood as mortal. Yet through its workings and configurations it departed and resituated mortality. Immortal is a tremendous physical effort whose culmination is im-material and intangible. There are no verbal analogues for the visual and aural experience of Immortal. Perhaps all that can be articulated are its stylistic alignments and correspondences that foreground the abstract over the material, the un-manifest over the manifest; the mortal over the Immortal.

Reviewed by: Aparna Sharma

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