Nora x Bauer x Parkins: Nora the Many – Sadler’s Wells

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Eleanor Bauer with Nora and Coven Press

Film Direction: Stephanie McMann, Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley

Performers working at the intersection of different forms of expression can help to signal new boundary-spanning forms. Often sitting outside the mainstream, the creative freedom to move between styles, devices and media is inherently innovative but it also relies on plenty of trial and error, meaning that not every project will be entirely successful. Eleanor Bauer’s film showing at Sadler’s Wells combines choreo | graphic novel storytelling, art, dance and cinema that certainly has imaginative potential.

Nora x Bauer x Parkins: Nora the Many follows a group of interrelated characters at a bar owned by a woman named Cindy hosting talent nights where Davina the Star performs. Around this, regulars discuss the show, reflecting on Davina’s performance while several other primary and secondary characters including a giant who represents the planet, an Electric Child and a bartender feature as Nora the Many examines life and the universe through its characters and scenarios.

Nora is a collective of dancers, Stephanie McMann, Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley, who collaborated with Bauer over several years to create this 70-minute piece in which dance and movement is only a minor feature. Using a series of exercises including ‘Manual Lucidity’ which focuses on speaking while moving, ‘Open Dancing, Open Writing’ about intuition and ‘Re-mything’ which essentially passes a creation story around the participants, Nora the Many is piece that feels like it is still evolving.

The central scenario is increasingly credible, the world of the bar and its customers tangibly created by Bauer and while the central individuals – Tina, Tworden and Divina – never speak for themselves, the handful of personalities that the team create is starting to take shape and the narrative drawing them together begins to develop momentum in the final third of the film.

That is largely supported by the ‘talking heads’ approach in which Nora (presumably playing themselves) and a set of additional characters reflect on Divina’s talent and charisma. Performed as interview pieces direct to camera, there is a faux sincerity in these moments taken from the mock documentary genre that works really nicely and Nora the Many starts to draw the audience into this strange and surreal place they have created.

But it loses that traction elsewhere with a series of deliberately unpolished dance sequences and character skits filmed in a wood that never properly connects with Cindy’s bar. These are overlaid sometimes with story points but also with poems and philosophy as McMann, Sikorski and Wellesley Wesley perform as secondary characters Lauden, Alan T. Clam and Nettle the Oracle, but also as themselves. It is all designed to appear un-choreographed, loose and improvised and it clearly means something to Nora but little of that translates to the audience.

The film is bookended by a Prelude featuring two dancers as the Oracle and an Epilogue of characters dancing in the bar, but the viewer remains largely on the outside looking in. Sadler’s Wells has increasingly invested in the crossovers between dance and film, and Nora are certainly thinking creatively about the possibilities presented by the combination of different art forms.

Runs until 30 September 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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