Mia Habib’s How to Die, Inopiné. Woman with cropped hair and outstretched arms is looking up in the foreground. She wears a grey unitard embroidered with lichen-like greys and oranges. In the background are four others, in similar costumes. Wooden pallets lie on the floor and there is smoke in the background.


CODA collection: four dances from Norway

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Mia Habib’s How to Die, Inopiné. Photo © Tale Hendnes/Dansens Hus
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Each year, Springback Academy graduates have the opportunity to attend a live meeting at a dance festival. This year it was the first weekend of the CODA Oslo International Dance Festival, where we also participated in a workshop on collective writing by the Norwegian Performing Criticism Globally project.

It turns out that collective writing is… pretty complicated! Joint agreement on final words is slow, difficult, and often impractical. On the other hand, we found we could easily expand the idea of collective writing to include texts which have an editor as well as an author; have more than one author; are collections of writing rather than collectively written; or which cite, or even are influenced by, other people’s words. (tThe bottom line: language itself is collective, not authored.)

Never mind how it’s written, though, it’s also important to ask: how is it read? After all, the unity of a text lies not in its origin – the writer – but in its destination. That is: in you, the reader.

With that in mind, below you’ll find a collection of four texts on four CODA performances, written separately by four authors (with one common editor: me). Together they form a necessarily partial view of the range of performances on offer, from a range of viewpoints. Such is dance writing; read them as you will.

Sanjoy Roy

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Mia Habib’s How to Die, Inopiné. Man lies face down at an angle across wooden pallets. Wearing a grey unitard embroidered with lichen-like grey and red stitching
Mia Habib’s How to Die, Inopiné. Photo © Tale Hendnes/Dansens Hus

Sensorial affects

Mia Habib’s How to Die, Inopiné

As we enter the room —a shared space with a group of performers that includes the light and sound technicians — what first seems like random wandering quickly turns out to be the undoing of a construction. Made of half-dead branches, dirty ropes, abandoned pallets and coloured pieces of fabric, this installation of worthless materials is spread around the space just before a rave starts. Blue and red flashing lights frame the trembling and shaking bodies that celebrate this desperate party: flesh moving to a violent beat. They sweat, we watch them sweating, the room heats up.

Mia Habib’s How to Die, Inopiné is based on distinct textures of action and energy, their sensorial affects accumulating in our bodies. After violent action, silence – when it comes – takes a long time to land. Finally, our cells calm down, and the space reveals a landscape where human bodies lie around next to wooden ones, an arm and a branch rest together. The protagonism shifts between human and non-human subjects when the eye translates a landscape of deforestation into a scene of massacre.

Then the movement continues: reassembling the ropes and wood, rediscovering the space with new constructions, simultaneously building and tearing down. The cyclical action that choreographer Mia Habib seems to suggest is a Sisyphean task, and the impossibility of its resolution becomes obvious.

The installation grows from the centre of the room into the audience, branches and fabrics becoming ties between audience members and between performer and spectator. For a moment of beauty, we are all part of the same construction, a shared constellation.

As the first part of the performance vanishes, we are then invited outside the theatre. Around bonfires, the performers recount personal stories of colonialism, rhizomatic organisms or genocide to propose paths connected to the excessive earlier action. Suddenly, over a cup of hot chocolate, still fragile after the energetic impact of the performance, a sense of injustice invades my body; one insignificant part of an all-encompassing organism.

Riikka Laakso

Roza Moshtaghi’s Limbo. A line of four performers, standing in profile. On the left, a man in white t shirt and grey shorts. Next another figure in grey shorts, tan tights and top. Then a oman in white leggings and top with floral black embroidery. Finally another woman in tan tights and top, and blue shorts. All wear trainers.
Roza Moshtaghi’s Limbo. Photo © Lars Opstad

Ornaments of the present

Roza Moshtaghi: Limbo

When the audience enters the ‘Limbo’ – a space filled with a lingering, disturbing electronic sound, hinting at today’s ubiquitous rave aesthetics, a space framed by typographic light decorations composed of sentence fragments – four performers are already waiting for them. Dressed like saucy nightclub patrons, their slim, almost androgynous bodies wrapped in a second skin — thin mesh suits covered with tattoo drawings – they half-sit on the stage, indifferently looking around and displaying themselves, slowly changing poses. One dancer holds a melting ice cream of bright green in her hand, creating an image of cold, unnatural exposure.

This might be an iconic image of how contemporary dance settings and bodies look today on major Western stages. Thus it’s surprising to find out that the piece owes a lot to Naghali, an ancient Persian tradition of storytelling where a narrator performs in front of a large painted canvas telling epic stories, juggling with characters and plots, always making new narratives out of the same unchanging pictures. Thus in Limbo, Oslo-based choreographer with Iranian roots Roza Moshtaghi intricately plays with intertwinement between codes of her ancestral culture and dominant Western aesthetics.

Performances created in a similar style (here we can recall Anne Imhof, Young Boy Dancing Group, partially, and the work How to Die by Mia Habib also shown at the CODA festival) rarely work in detail with movement. As a rule, they focus on ritualism, the intensity of the presence of bodies, and the general atmosphere (smoke machine, strobe light, well, you know it!). It is all the more remarkable that Limbo is a surprisingly well-developed piece in terms of the movement language. It seems to be based on several simple and spectacular principles: the search for the intensity of expression in a very rigidly defined framework; repetition and the game of small deviations from the dominant movement patterns; momentum, flight, and animal softness inside a mechanised corset of externally imposed kinetic boundaries. The determined quality of movement or its trajectory is constantly suspended (which is reflected in the title): they hang between two opposites. That’s probably why for some of the viewers this abstract work paints pictures of the posthumanist world — not-really-human, not-really-machine-like.

Formally, Limbo is a series of alternating dance ornaments. Rhythm, mirroring, repeatability are developed within kinetic situations resembling a march (marching lying down and half-sitting is a great find!), the dance of a multi-armed Asian god, or the movement of an unknown beast. However, like any ornament, the choreography here strives to abstract concrete forms, immersing the viewers in their own interpretations. In this regard, Limbo is almost like a modernist work that, being inspired by an Eastern cultural tradition, focuses on formal aspects of dancing and repetition, thus emancipating the audience’s imagination.

On the other hand, it stands away from the ‘neutrality’ of Western minimalist dance of the mid-twentieth century, filling the space with signs that actively associate it with the spirit of our time. This is done with the help of the visuals by Ronak Moshtaghi and the groovy, catchy sound by Josefin Jussi Andersson, whose merit in this work should not be understated. It is the visual style, the bodies’ constitution, the costumes, the music, the atmosphere that turn Limbo so up-to-date and make us recall the anxieties of the current moment: gender issues, other-than-human worlds, affective economics, cold self-exposure in the media, infantilism, and, as the recurring song in the performance says, all today’s regrets.

Anna Kozonina

Grief Will Be Our Companion, by Geir Hytten. A barefoot man stands in profile with his head hanging down. On his back is a flat plastic sack. The stage is filled with smoke, the light is orange-yellow
Grief Will Be Our Companion, by Geir Hytten. Photo © Lars Opstad

Poetry of dystopia

Geir Hytten: Grief Will Be Our Companion

Grief Will Be Our Companion borrows its title from a chapter in Lesley Head’s book Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene, which explores the loss of future, the sense of doom and the encompassing anxiety taking over the affluent West because of climate change. Its striking opening image – Geir Hytten and Jakob Ingram-Dodd, silently wandering around the black box stage with transparent nylon backpacks full of grass and soil – is both dystopian and poetic. The only noise is the sound of water in the rubber boots one of them wears; the only object, an oversized black pillow – a Chekhov’s gun that will fire at the end of the piece. The performers face the audience, each other and the space in a series of minimal repetitive movements that seem fragile and powerless to stop the inevitable. The claustrophobic feeling is supported by a sound designer, hidden in the corner of the stage near the exit, whose presence slowly becomes audibly and visually prominent.

For me the backpacks suggest oxygen tanks running out. By the end of the piece we see looming shadows on the wall, wet footsteps slowly disappearing on the dance floor, smoke and fog coming towards the audience, a blackout as aggressive industrial noises and low frequencies take over the pitch-black theatre space, sounds of incoming water created with the black pillow and compulsive inhalations. All these have become parts of a choreography from the end of the world that slowly yet inexorably tightens its grip.

Yasen Vasilev

Kartellet company in Danse Staur, Danse Staur. A man and a woman in dark suits look at each other, their ams joined together by one very long sleeve. Assorted audience members sit around them in a circle.
Kartellet company in Danse Staur, Danse Staur. Photo © Lars Opstad

Circling traditions

Kartellet: Danse staur, Danse staur

Three women and a man enter the stage, hand in hand, in couples. They walk past the audience, who are sitting in a circle, carefully looking at everyone’s faces before getting to their places: two women, who we guess are the musicians, behind the audience; the other two, the dancers, next to the audience inside the circle, facing each other.

Another male-female couple will soon inhabit the centre of the stage. Dressed in black, like the others, they are linked by one long sleeve of their jackets. They can’t get away from each other, though they keep trying. They start moving in a circle – the shape that will accompany the whole performance: dancing around one another, spinning together, inviting the other dancers in a bigger circle or trying to form other couples.

There’s a lot of struggling and heavy breathing, fighting and finding harmony in Danse staur, Danse staur, by the company Kartellet, a piece inspired by a traditional dance practice called ‘dancing stag’ or ‘to stag’, where men danced with men, and women with women. It’s the first time Kartellet have involved female performers, and they challenge themselves to not install either the norm of opposite-gender couples or the tradition of same-gender couples, and instead to choose to be playful with audience expectations. The leading role in couple is often exchanged; the longing for the two women (or the two men) to dance with each other is often disrupted by the urge of an excluded dancer to bring them back to the original couples. Mastering a specific technique for turning, each dancer competes to be the fastest, to find new virtuosities, to catch the attention of another partner, to be noisy and bold, rewriting the rules of what seems to be a courtship in times of fluidity.

In the playfulness of breathtaking dance, the game of love is painful and relieving, freeing or imprisoning. Just as with couples dancing in jackets with a shared sleeve, it all depends on how one can embrace the struggle and transform it into a creative act.

Greta Pieropan

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22–26 October 2021, Oslo, Norway
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