From the outset Dancing with Death is set for a visual experience; Phi Ta Kohn costumed dancers parade around the stage to a soundscape of the streets of Thailand arranged by Hiroshi Iguchi. The environment isn’t hostile, but one in which we are allowed to witness festivities.
Dancing with death is a sacred piece, nearly religious and ritualistic the dancers set themselves up on a circular stage platform, and however before entering the performance arena every single dancer takes the ritual of stepping through their own arms into a new reality. The movement is slow and the composition of the bodies in this stunning sculptural set is really the core of this work.
One can imagine being inside a museum, witnessing a ritual where death is accepted, embraced and even celebrated through movement.
Dancing with death starts with the dancers spreading across the stage, moving in slow motion on a meditative state until the ensemble comes together through a large unison, at this point the music is super minimalistic, reminding me of past works from Lucinda Childs, not on its choreographic devices or even form, as the movement is rather simple but on the relationship to the music, the repetition of large scale unisons – dividing itself into sporadic moments of intimate grace.
One female dancer is elevated from the group as they march up the set; she runs away with arms extended and falls. Perhaps running away to start with and by the end embracing death. Curiously enough, dancing with death is also a celebration.
From my interview with Pichet I was expecting sacrifice and sorrow, however dancing with death is a visual experience that allows the ensemble to connect with its emotions but not the audience, perhaps a composition choice from the choreographer, which would benefit from editing.
The piece changes drastically when a parade of voluntary dancers storms on stage celebrating, shouting and happily dancing a lost form that can be similar to the dance previously explored by the core company. Celebrations are in order and death fades away into nothingness.
Dancing with death is a striking visual arts experience from the start, mined with simple movement and enveloped in ritualistic celebrations – death is simply accepted even honoured.
Throughout the performance I wished I was on stage, up close to the performers to feel and smell the sweat and its emotions, however the choice to keep the audience away from the ritualistic experience, allows one to dive into a majestic visual experience where movement is followed by pockets of light revealing a stage sculpture where death takes place, or it doesn’t.
DANCING WITH DEATH – an Esplanade commission, choreographed by Picket Klunchun 6th and 7th of May at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.