Jefta van Dinther: Dark Field Analysis – Sadler’s Wells, London

Choreographer and Director: Jefta van Dinther

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

While instances of unnecessary (usually female) nakedness seem to have lessened in the wake of #MeToo, the issue of onstage nudity remains a pertinent one. Ask the creatives and they will tell you its vital to the truth of the work, while the actors say they’ll do it if enhances the artistic integrity of the scene, but the truth is its almost never truly necessary. With two naked protagonists, the return of Jefta van Dinther’s 2017 abstract movement piece Dark Field Analysis to Sadler’s Wells poses more questions than it answers.  

JP and Roger sit naked on a rug surrounded by the audience discussing their memories in slowly unfolding sentences. As the men twist, lean and splay their bodies, unable to stand, they explore the feeling and experience of being alive, with particular focus on the sight of blood. Over time the movements become faster, more interactive and darker as they form different shapes, exploring the inward and outward signs of life.

Not quite theatre, not exactly dance, Dark Field Analysis is about as intangible as performance can get. The opening conversation between JP and Roger quickly becomes unsettling, not just for the determinedly slow pace of their speech, but for the odd juxtaposition of childhood memories of spinning and blurring with the overly sexualised splaying of their adult bodies and intense interactions. Soon JP is stroking the floor and imagining blood which he describes as violent and scary but also shiny, bright and delightful, a ‘privilege to witness’.

But it just gets weirder from here, they start moving with a jerky, mechanical rhythm and soon the audience is plunged into darkness only for shapes to take emerge from the red-lit dimness. One of the protagonists does a handstand while the other philosophises about the various meanings of bloodline, then JP drags Roger around as though he’s killed him, they paw at the carpet like naughty kittens until it is completely pushed aside, and contort strangely, making it impossible to tell if they’re performing cannibalistic rituals or trying to save each other.

There is a manic energy to the last 20-minutes of this hour-long show, and it clearly demands a huge amount from performers Juan Pablo Camara and Roger Sala Reyner, but it’s never clear what any of it means, or what point van Dinther is trying to make. David Kier’s sound design is full of thuds, synthesised scrapes and animalistic roars which creates the escalating oddness but does little to clarify the show’s intentions. Typical repetitive lyrics include ‘there is a horse crying, can you hear it… there is a lot of hair around the back… it’s cold in here’ – whether we’re still talking about the horse is anyone’s guess.

Why Camara and Reyner are naked is never really explained. Yes, it showcases van Dinther’s choreography designed to focus attention on the physical shapes and movements of the muscles beneath the skin, and towards the end there is an evolutionary hint of Neolithic man learning to stand, but the nudity really doesn’t add much to an already oblique and alienating experience for the audience.

Reviewed on  14 September 2018 | Image: Ben Mergelsberg

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