Shapes of States is the newest work by choreographer Stina Nyberg. A series of dance movements take inspiration from theories of movement, bodily language and public health of the early 20th century and beyond. Through these, Nyberg examines our historical, political and social relationships with the human body. Performance Reviewed was invited to attend the UK premiere, part of the week-long Block Universe festival.
A short bicycle ride into leafy Notting Hill took me to The Tabernacle, a lovely red-brick church turned cultural centre. Outside, the evening air was balmy and pleasant; inside, filing into the performance space under the arched roof, it was mildly stuffy. Sandra Lolax commenced Shapes of States with a monologue, sitting at a desk beside the stage. Seemingly impromptu, she alternates between literal descriptions of the venue, self narrative, personal asides, and the historical/social contexts of the piece. It was engaging, informative and, in the tension between mechanistic and emotive modes of speech, a simulacra of what was to follow.
Through a series of symphonic sequences, Nyberg depicts the historical struggle for ownership over the human body. Shapes of States takes inspiration from early 20th century, mechanistic and schematic theories of the body and movement. Precise, patterned movements transform the human into the machine, and the individual into the anonymous collective. Even the fragments of historical forms of domination – more individual and overtly brutal – seem rationalised. Sindri Runudde, Andrea Svensson, Lolax and Nyberg herself performed with remarkable discipline. They hardly seemed to break a sweat through some highly athletic pieces, even with the heat wave.
Tove Edlund Dreiman’s set exactly invokes the dreary hospital ward: clinical, nondescript and sterile. In a stark moment, the cast re-enacts a training exercise beneath a monstrous, inflated humanoid figure. It is a reminder of both the overt state disciplining of the person, and of a more insidious, cultural fetishisation of the body.
The only snag for this night’s performance was a deficit of audio equipment. The cast took turns in describing and interpreting the movements for the audience. This was conveyed via headphones, of which there was a limited number on first-come, first-serve basis. It seems this aspect was designed for the benefit of the visually impaired, and only extended generally afterwards. For the most part, the performance seemed to stand on its visual strength. However, in an interval Styberg performed a second monologue through the headphones. At first the murmuring and sense of non-space effected a mysterious atmosphere. Idling for approximately ten minutes, however, broke the otherwise measured pacing of the performance.
That problem aside, Shapes of States is an fascinating performance and intriguing study. With its unusual yet accessible subject matter, this was a good opening for the festival.
Performance Reviewed was kindly invited to attend the performance by Block Universe. Feature Image courtesy of Stina Nyberg; performance images courtesy of Block Universe.
Block Universe, London’s international performance art festival, is back for the third year running, from 29 May to 4 June 2017, with a programme of newly commissioned performances, UK premieres, talks and workshops.
Taking place at renowned institutions, including the Royal Academy of Arts and Somerset House, as well as unique locations across the city, the week long festival presents work by some of the most exciting UK – based and international artists working in performance art today.