Review: Tundra

Dublin Dance Festival’s opening show has the style and pace of a Nordic noir thriller



Samuel Beckett Theatre

We feel and hear the Arctic wind howling across the imagined tundra of Emma Martin Dance, and watch through gauze and flickering lights as four figures stagger into this inhospitable territory, in search of shelter or maybe a future. This edgy, image-driven work, which opened the Dublin Dance Festival, is directed with the style and pace of a Nordic noir thriller.


The "grey building", which this quartet of lost souls encounter, is a transit camp of memory and fantasy. Dreams and nightmares are summoned and expunged. It is a space both alien and domestic in Sarah Jane Shiels's finely lit design, inhabited only by Raymond Keane's chain-smoking Grey Man. In this blurred space, secrets and demons are untangled or realised; the women (Justine Cooper and Oona Doherty) make the most impact in Martin's angular and jangled nervy dances, spinning, stretching and flailing as jerky, asymmetrical patterns abound. But occasionally, for this oddball collective (including an athletic Neil Fleming Brown and Simon Jaymes) there is an oasis of calm: a reaching hand, a proffered shoulder, a shared cigarette; a human need to connect.

Tension is ever fuelling this disciplined work, keeping us alert and engaged. It is palpably underpinned by Nick Roth and Francesco Turrisi's score played live, evoking Balkan folk tunes, a primal beat , atonal rumblings and Slavic murmurings. The crackling of a small black-and-white television, around which the group gather, underlines the cinematic technique of the dance. It's all shadow play and silhouettes, camera-hugging images projecting the stereotypical or the surreal; a stark vignette of a trio of mantilla-draped dancing widows, morphing into cabaret artists, all fishnets, flicked heels and feigned seductive poses.

The characters gather too around a wooden table, a communal moment of remembered house parties. The final visual is of that same table now laid for formal dinner, the figures shedding their darker selves to dine together, accompanied by the Grey Man, part puppeteer and projectionist.

Ends Friday