In October 2018 I visited Misiconi Dance Company for two days in relation to my master studies. I am a dancer and teacher from a similar dance group in Norway called Danselaboratoriet or in english “The Dance Laboratory”. My aim is to learn more about how mixed ability dance companies work and how it is experienced to dance in such groups.
The first encounter with Misiconi was in Amsterdam at A-Lab for the performance “Walkie Talkie Wilderness”, a contemporary piece for 5 dancers choreographed by Joop Oonk. The audience was invited to a white room with a few pillars defining the space, and in the middle a plinth holding a walkie talkie. The audience was immediately at the same level as the dancers. Wearing black costumes and distinguishing black wigs, the dancers mingled in the spaces between, contrasting the scenography. The audience was allowed to move around, catching views of the dance from any directions. Text instructions over the walkie talkie directed the dancers, and partially the audience, in how to move in space. The dancer’s movements ranged from small and subtle everyday gests like flicking of the hair, to walking and running, to the larger movements deriving from contemporary technique and sculptural group pose constructions and contact duets. Rhythmic electronic music supported the development of the choreography. The dancers’ high energy and evident confidence in what they were representing with the piece was very convincing. Everyone are clearly trained dancers, but with various individual expressions that are allowed to shine through. Though, I would have liked to see even more of this from everyone, as I felt that the more experienced dancers were given more room.
The choreography had many playful elements to tackle the theme of power relations and autonomy. There were moments of severity, especially in relation to the text, that gave room for reflections to how much we are controlled or directed as human beings, by in example the media, politicians or power figures. At one point there is a kind of “follow the leader” idea going on, and it is evident that are you not as fast as the leader you will be left behind, raising questions about inclusivity. At one point one of the dancers withdraws from the groups, sits down on the floor and has a monologue, bringing intimacy and vulnerability to the piece. All wearing the same black wigs the dancers could be representing being equals, or an uniform entity moving together, and it was very effectful to see what happened with the group’s balance as soon as someone altered from the mainstream actions. Seemingly trying out their autonomy, but again and again drawn back into the collective way. Something that can be seen as a comment on how we often do not allow something to diverge from the “standard”. But if everyone could openly be themselves, would it not push the idea of what the standard would be? A whole lot more versatile, that is for sure. It is as if the piece is discussing the social constructions and pushing the existing framework we are interacting within. It is a piece suitable for all audiences, and there are many layers to it, varying from the physical and formative to the relational and interactive, to the more political and existential aspects. The interactive aspect is especially interesting as the instructions given to the audience allows for first hand experience in the theme of power and autonomy. The effect of the piece stays with you for some time, having raised some reflections on interaction and human relations.
The next day I met with Misiconi in their dance studio in Rotterdam. An accessible all ground-level space. In context with my masters I interviewed some of the dancers. I learned that every week the group works both with technical aspects and creative tasks and choreography. The group consists of dancers with versatile backgrounds in dance and movement practises, and the artistic leader has creative ways to integrate everyone. Use of drawings and small creative tasks brings new ideas and awareness of their own work, a means for stimulating reflection and discussions about dance. In the afternoon we went to a nearby outdoor location where they filmed elements from their performance to make a short dance film. They had been at this location to rehearse only once before, and I was impressed with how fast everyone came into their role to explore and improvise on their own, with the need of very few guidelines. You could feel that they share a true passion for dance.
I enjoyed getting to know Misiconi, the wonderful dancers and Joop, the driving force behind this company, and I am leaving them as new colleagues and friends. Thank you!
Nina Therese Aune