A review by Inger-Margrethe Lunde
1st October 2007
It is soon 9 pm. It's chilly, but there is no rain. It is dark. I walk from the Royal Palace and down Karl Johan to Roald Amundsen's Street, where there is to be a performance in a glasshouse near the music pavilion. The auditorium is the street.
I arrive early. There are hardly any people, but I can see the greenhouse. It stands there alone in front of the National Theatre and at a slight diagonal to Roald Amundsen's Street. The street lamps have been turned off for the performance. I glimpse some shadows on the pavilion; it must be the production crew who haven't got things going yet. There are still only a very few people. I think to myself: Oh, well, this is for the few – dance outdoors on a dark, autumn evening.
The dance space is built of glass and steel and measures 11 x 3 x 3 metres. A strip of red light marks out the edges of the floor. A beautiful, empty, rectangular construction. We are witness to a "breathing space" – a meditative room for dance; soft dance; lyrical dance.
Three dancers in light, neutral, grey costumes enter the room and lie down flat in a line; the length and walls of the room define and set concrete limits for the movement. At the same time, these constrictions allow the dancers and the choreographer the opportunity to go more into depth; a form of contemplation within the confines of a restricted space. Yet this space is extremely open at the same time; for in a way, the whole city can see them.
Two women and a man lie outstretched, marking the dimensions of the long room. Slowly, they become three balls, or embryos, or perhaps bulbs ready for a new spring in the greenhouse. The associations evoked are more numerous than would have been the case had the dance taken place indoors and without the framework of the glasshouse. The room that surrounds the dancers is delicate and transparent; they are human beings/dancers in the making.
Lines and movements around the dancers' own axes are the main point of departure for the choreography and, in fact, the only possibility in this space. The dancers make beautiful, soft movements, such as a hand gliding over a body, giving a feeling of "coming into being". Swinging gently, almost in one place, they create waves not only in themselves, but out to us. The colours change almost imperceptibly, but the glass walls and the dancers are lit in yellow, mauve, green and blue throughout the performance.
I look around me. I am no longer alone. Suddenly, there are a lot of people standing about three metres from this box of ideas, breathing space or greenhouse. Most are standing quietly while they watch. Some are not quiet. Three teenage girls go right up to the glass, put their faces to the pane and say, "Can you see me? Take a picture, I can do that too, dance!" They don't let up.
Neither do the dancers. Unaffected by the life outside, they develop the dance – soft contact work. One dancer rests exquisitely on another's back and is pulled across the stage floor with sensual appeal. We believe it is quiet in there, even though rich, intense and at the same time friendly, electroacoustic music based on sounds of breathing, water and wind fills Roald Amundsen's Street.
Though Pustestripe is a lingering choreographic composition, there are also moments of rapidity and dramatic breaks, but even these changes are characterised by a lyrical mood; a mild flow. The meetings between the dancers, more or less insistent, and the different degrees of isolation as well as the duos and trios of the choreographic language arouse associations to the cycle of nature; grass growing; people being born and dying.
Engebrigtsen's intention was to create an oasis of peace in the city, and she manages to achieve this in a captivating and lucid way. She has reached out to me, and even though I have to stand outside the glasshouse, I am invited to stand for 20 minutes on the pavement and watch.
A man turns to the person next to him and asks, "What is this?" She replies, "It's contemporary dance". "What's it about?" he persists. "Use your eyes", comes the reply. "I don't understand dance", he mumbles as he leaves.
I have described incidents that took place outside the greenhouse during the performance. I have also commented on people who suddenly came and stood there, watching. I believe they enjoyed what they saw or wondered. I have described all these things because I believe that this installation evoked a feeling of pleasure (or a "something I don't understand") in people. Pustestripe invited them to breathe with the performers and look at bodies, well protected in a greenhouse. Precisely this distance and the walls, which were nonetheless transparent, allowed the dance to communicate in an appealing way. A short time of devotion amidst the stress of the city centre.
Of course, darkness makes a favourable framework and protects the onlookers. The darkness envelops me and gives me a feeling of space, my space, from which I can observe another room – one that is lit up, but nevertheless surrounded by the same darkness. In this way, the production also becomes a picture of the small individual, the world at large, the universe, the eternal and ever close presence of breathing.
The performance became a kind of pleasant, unassuming experience of something important. Something that wished me well. Something that wanted to give me hope. Pustestripe was unpretentious, even though its location might indicate the opposite. I perceived the performance an as invitation and a gesture. Thank you very much.