Under the direction of choreographer and dramaturg duo, Banse & Ouwens, four performers – three dancers and a musician – put forth an off-kilter, imagined, fragile world in which the performers take turns testing their faith in each other, physics, and nature. The deeper I go commences with the dancers in a huddle, shaking uncontrollably, an act that appears more menacing than usual somatic dance practices on account of psychedelic, hybrid animal masks concealing their identities. Various constellations are experimented with, for example, a dancer bumps about apathetically like a pin ball, or violently tugs at their neighbour’s arm. Stefan Kirchhoff’s pounding electronic soundscape reflects the frustration and exasperation expressed through the choreographic element of these opening moments. As the sound subdues the performers are left breathless and croaking, only to be resurrected without their animal masks, thus revealing a perplexed, enquiring gaze, and a movement quality transposed from a vertigo patient.
Programme notes for The deeper I go inform the spectator that affluent societies are dissipating, leaving “us” to reconceptualise traditional social/political/financial structures. Banse & Ouwens opt to depict a somewhat populist take on the anxiety felt by nondescript common people, drawing inspiration from the angst experienced by some who believe their class is being compromised, and with little imagination one can view this topic of choice in relation to recent global flows of power, finances and people. The alternative to this perspective, namely a celebration of the potential of failed systems, is not explored in the work.
A female dancer lurches across the stage drunkenly, and relies on her male counterpart to catch her in free fall, or prevent her from colliding head first with concrete pillars framing the performance space. In the following scene the dancers become entwined in glistening, black rope, functioning as a safety net in some instances, more like a slingshot in others. As the rope unravels the choreographic system collapses and the dancers are left wandering through the space aimlessly, or scattered limp-limbed on the floor. Another scene in this series of theatrical representations of fear and anxiety features a dancer fleeing from a fellow performer who attempts to smother her, obstruct her path, or act as a dead weight on her back.
Prior to the final musical crescendo, composed of electrical hums and crashes to which the dancers again respond by interlocking their arms and heaving and jerking to the point of exhaustion, a simple and effective scenic device displays how the work could be further developed. A single lightbulb hanging from the theatre’s rafters swings back and forth unpredictably, providing and depriving the individual performers of light depending on the patterns it draws in the space. Accordingly, the performers attempt to track this light and reorientate themselves according to ever changing circumstances. Such an approach is perhaps the more accurate depiction of Europeans’ current circumstances; a little confused, but capable of finding their own solutions.
However, my ability to identify with the work in such fleeting moments was undermined by others that left me wondering if the current state of European society is really as dreary as the droning musical accompaniment and the flailing performers would have us believe. Do “we” feel exhausted and oppressed? Are “we” survivors of a dangerous paradigm shift?
The creators’ explicit aims in this work are open to interpretation, although one particular dance theatre interlude sums up this writer’s experience. Two performers sit downstage at tables like those common to high-street cafés. They perform a series of gestures with coffee cups and saucers in hand, for example, tip the cups upside down, or alternatively dip in their fingers, only to reveal there’s no coffee to be had. While grave financial and social concerns may be valid in some regions and contexts, the worst many of us are confronted with in the current global climate is the possibility of having to sacrifice luxury items like a cup of coffee. Fortunately for the contemporary dance audiences who get the chance to see The deeper I go, yet ultimately detrimental to the gravitas of the work itself, the sight of young, energetic, clean-cut, fashionably dressed, white, Western European artists does not evoke worries about Western society’s wellbeing, but rather underlines how privileged our living standards often are.