Monday, 21 March 2022

REVIEW: This is How You Will Disappear by Gisele Vienne at Sadler's Wells

What happens when you create a giant forest on a stage and put into it a gymnast, her serial killer coach, a rockstar and throw in a real-life wolf for good measure? Despite spending 80 mins in said environment, I am none the wiser. First created in 2010 for the Festival d'Avignon, This is how you will disappear is an ambitious stage production that straddles the identity of art installation, dance and theatre by Gisèle Vienne and is part of Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Although this work is undoubtedly engrossing and boasts imagery that will last in my mind for a long time to come, the overall structure of the work rests unclear, diluting whatever the intention it is meant to have. 

The narrative of the work follows a young gymnast in the forest who is training with her serial killer coach. It is then intertwined with the story of a rockstar who has recently killed his girlfriend and is dealing with the psychological stress of his actions. The ending, with the wight of a great message that is never revealed, introduces a man with a bow and arrows and a live dog/wolf. This together with an epic forest installation shrouded in mist and an assaulting soundtrack that fills the auditorium instantly conjures up horror movie vibes from beginning to end. There is no denying that the design of this work, is spectacular. It not only explores the effects of epic visuals and sound on an audience but also stimulates ones touch and smell senses as the mist onstage (a fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya), bellows out into the audience in a cool damp cloud and fills the space with the smell of foliage. There are several sequences that involve no performers at all and these design elements are allowed to take the spotlight. 

I think the main reason I could not quite grasp what the work was trying to say was that although it presented a narrative, be it a bizarre one, much of the movement and relationships onstage remained too ambiguous to read. Continuous slow movement and contorted figures portray angst and the inner physiological struggles of each character but never really evolves. It also feels like we are given a jigsaw of images that are supposed to relate but never shown how. For this reason, its identity as an art installation or traditional performance becomes confusing and one would benefit from choosing one direction and going further with the choice or finding a way to intertwine the two without alienating the audience.

In saying this, the musical composition by Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg is, as I said, assaulting, in a positive way and is one of the more successful elements that help the work become an immersive experience as is the lighting design by Patrick Riou. However, this again highlights how the design and performance elements need more cohesion.

I would love to see this work evolve and find what it want’s to truly be and say. There is enough happening to keep any audience engaged but don’t expect to leave understanding what you just experienced.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★

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