Tundra – Dublin Dance Festival – Review


Tundra – Review by Sarah Gilmartin

The Tundra explored by Emma Martin Dance is a dark and foreboding landscape, a world that blurs the lines between nightmare and reality, offering a disorienting narrative full of engaging moments and action. The domestic is well represented in the impressive set design (Emma Martin & Sarah Jane Shiels). An armchair in the foreground, an old television set displaying static, transmissions failing. The table and chairs in the background will later be set for dinner, but not before the characters climb on top and sing into a suspended microphone, dangling surreally out of the darkness, from heaven or hell.

This sense of existential vertigo is mirrored in the choreography, the disjointed, jerky dances by the women in particular (Oona Doherty and Justine Cooper) drawing us into the tense world of the tundra, giving an angular, rhythmic beauty to its strangeness. Their subsequent antics bring contrast to the piece – black wigs and pink pom poms – undercutting the darkness with humour, offering a freakish parody of reality. The pair are joined in their search for meaning and for hope with their male counterparts (Simon Jaymes and Neil Fleming Brown), the four outsiders moving together in a moment of connection that is genuine and affecting after the isolation that precedes it.

Shadows dominate the domestic, unsettling us as we watch the characters do battle with stranger versions of themselves, trying to grasp at a future. The gauzy sheath that hangs over the set at the beginning acts as a film, preventing us from fully accessing or understanding their world. Who is the Grey Man (Raymond Keane) who sits smoking in the armchair and what control does he possess? The rows of light bulbs flashing from above are an art installation in their own right, attracting the eye but refusing to let it settle.

Three veiled widows dressed all in black interrupt proceedings, their cabaret movements projected onto cinematic screens, adding another element of style. Later they sit, as on a casting couch, crossing and uncrossing their legs for the chain smoking Grey Man director.

Through it all the live score by Nick Roth and Francesco Turrisi works to stir emotion. At times primal and forbidding, elsewhere the anthemic melodies lead us along with the dancers as they progress in leaps and bounds over the flat and icy plains.

Tundra finished on May 23rd as part of the Dublin Dance Festival. The Festival continues until May 31st.

Find out more about Emma Martin Dance here.

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