Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company
by David Mead
November 14, 2012 -- The Castle, Wellingborough, UK
That no-one is ever really free is one of the great truisms. We are all bound by conventions, rules and restrictions, all largely unwritten, but all hugely influential on the way the act and think. That was the starting point for Jasmin Vardimon’s latest creation, “Freedom”.
It is a piece that bears similarity with a lot of Pina Bausch’s work. Guy Bar-Amotz and Vardimon’s set dominates the stage. It is very reminiscent of a rain forest, or maybe a mangrove swamp. There is a huge hanging green wall but the rest of the ‘vegetation’ is very industrial, all flexible pipes, hoses and wires. Like Bausch, there is much repetition of ideas too. Again and again, a giggly Aoi Nakamura comes to the front of the stage and tells us, “I want to tell you a story. It’s about…” When she finally does, she charges through it at top speed, and in Japanese, so pretty much no-one understands anyway. The ensemble dances repeat phrases over and over again, and there are more than a few male and female stereotypes.
To all that, though, Vardimon has injected her own very contemporary, aggressive, harder edge. She explores freedom through a montage of scenes. There are moments of abandon. Júlia Robert Parés runs free, arms outstretched, her dress flowing. Estéban Fourmi experiences the freedom of the waves on his surfboard. There are dancing fireflies, a mermaid, a refugee swan from Swan Lake, but each time they end up bound in one way or another.
There are moments where it’s the man who is constrained, notably in a femme fatale scene, but Vardimon largely focuses on the freedom, or rather the lack of freedom, of woman. That surfboard is actually Parés. Docile and uncomplaining, she grins her way through the imaginary waves, but is just an object. Yes, she enjoys the waves, but free she most definitely is not.
For all the energy, one scene stands out. Chuang Kai-wen, in a simple white dress, had previously flitted across the back of the stage Giselle-like. When she reappears on pointe and in a classical tutu, thoughts turn immediately to “Swan Lake”. The tubing becomes extensions of her arms, giant wings that will make her free. Reality hits home as she realises they are chains. Her dance becomes ever more frantic as she thrashes around trying in vain to escape. The music, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” only emphasises it’s all a dream that can never be realised.
Pointework maybe unusual in contemporary dance, but it is not half as unusual as shadow puppetry. Vardimon treats us to that too in a story about a mermaid and a white rabbit. As always, she thinks she is free, but he leads her into a trap and imprisons her.
The ensemble dance sections are typical Vardimon. Dancers ebb and flow across the stage. The choreography swings from often floor-based big, expansive and athletic dance that spirals and coils across the stage, to detailed close-ups of individuals. The cast attack it with great conviction and great energy. The score is often just as driving. The combination of Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, Roy Orbison and others with various electronica is most effective.
As is always the case in works like this, there are moments when “Freedom” doesn’t quite hang together, but it is hugely watchable and the 90 minutes or so flew past. The mostly young audience loved it, quite rightly giving the excellent cast a great ovation at the end.
“Freedom” continues on tour to May 2013. See http://www.jasminvardimon.com for details. Those in the New York/New Jersey area of the US can catch it at Montclair State University on April 18-21.
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