Fire and Dance

I have a lot to learn about devising drama and, even more, devising dance.  But I took a little step in that direction yesterday, when I sat down for a fabulous chat with Laura Farnworth, dramaturg for The Print Room’s upcoming production where dance realizes the qualities of fire.  It’s called Ignis, the latin word for fire, and here it is the name given to the female character of the piece.  

Working with the theatre’s artistic director Anda Winters, choreographer Hubert Essakow decided months ago to use the actor Sara Kestelman to accompany the dancers with readings.  But what would Olivier-award winning Sara (who famously played Titania in Peter Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970)) actually read?  Finding an appropriate text for a dance that was still being devised, with music that was likewise in the process of being composed (by Jon Opstad), might have seemed a nearly impossible challenge.  Then Hubert learned that Sara was a poet and that some of her work had been published with that of Susan Penhaligon in a volume, A Two Hander.  On reading Sara’s poems, Hubert immediately found some that he knew he could use in Ignis, where the metaphoric relationship between fire and love’s passion were being explored in a dozen different ways: the intense attraction, the dying away of passion, the betrayal, the sense of being burnt out. 

The dance piece needed some kind of overarching narrative, and that, Laura told me, was her job.  She had to discover a simple story that was not imposed on the piece but rather held it together, a story that fitted with the music, set, costumes and, above all, the fire-like movements of the dance.  Hubert is working with three dancers, and the idea for the dance’s story is that one relationship between lovers is dying while another is just beginning.  This lovers’ triangle is supposed to mirror the triangle of oxygen, fuel and ignition, the three ingredients needed to start fire.   Laura helped with selecting Sara’s poems, suggesting lines to leave in and leave out, and Sara helpfully made changes in some poems, in keeping with the theme of fire and of love’s relation to it.  The fact that this dance piece found an actor who just happened to be a poet who happened to have written some very appropriate poems seems to me to be one of its miracles, and one that is sure to lend it verbal authenticity and power. 

Ignis opens on 8 February and, as I write, it is still receiving the thoughtful attentions of all of its creators, including set designer Lee Newby, who is tasked with introducing real fire into the piece.  I meet with Lee today and am sure I will yet again feel a little overwhelmed by the hurdles these creative people set for themselves and the inevitable uncertainty that surrounds so much of the creative process.  In a recent interview, Sara said that teaching drama had taught her that “the text is sacred” and that everyone needs to be “immensely patient”.  She has of course let her own texts be adapted to something wholly new, something about to happen, about to be born indeed in a baptism of fire. 

Ignis runs at The Print Room from 8 February to 1 March, 7:30 Monday to Saturday.