“HIGH TIDE”, Pauline Payen ©Alicja Hoppel

Flooding in Darkness

In “HIGH TIDE,” choreographer and performer Pauline Payen addresses the haunting power of grief. The 60-minute dance performance can be seen until 2 April 2023 in DOCK 11.

An intense drum rhythm fills the DOCK 11 courtyard as soon as the doors to the theatre open. Sound technician and drummer FiFi sits in the back left corner of the white space, drumming out Charlie Aubry’s composition with all their might. The three performers (Pauline Payen, Dorota Michalak, and Lyllie Rouvière) create a contrast to the rapid beat of the drums with their slow circular motions: turning in circles as well as circling the middle of the stage. Even when the music escalates through heavy metal screams, the bodies maintain their gliding calm. Like planets in a fixed orbit they continue to rotate. They move repeatedly from above to below—sometimes gliding, sometimes falling—before returning to a standstill, turning, in taut slowness.

Suddenly, silence fills the space. It is interrupted only here and there by the sounds of the gray down jackets and the squeaking of the dark blue rubber rain pants that the dancers wear. Their circling end in a pose. The three fold their heads and torsos over their outstretched legs. Their arms reach with fingers spread towards the ceiling. A moment of tension, as if they have been bent and paralyzed by rage. Payen removes her down jacket, fills it with a loud scream, and throws it against the wall. Rouvière opens her jacket with her back to the audience. It looks like she is lit from within. The spotlight reflects on her body as if she is made of water and throws glittering waves against the wall.

A moment later, the performers clamp clothespins on all of their toes and fingers. With outstretched hands, they reach in every direction. Their heads are tipped back and their mouths open in a silent scream. Something rolls through the three bodies. Over and over, new qualities of movement surface: changing directions on high alert, circling ribcage and hips, stomping angrily. In one moment, Michalak and Rouvière roll over one another, grappling. In the next moment the three performers shake their hair synchronously in rhythm with their breath as they walk across the stage on their knees.

The different scenes take the performers on a whirlwind ride of feelings, from stagnation and misery to rage and heartache—symbols for the wavelike experience of grief. Grief envelops a person completely. Like water, it flows into every crack, no matter how small. Nonlinear currents drag the body around. Sometimes everything holds together, sometimes shoes are thrown on the floor in a fury. And yet, due to hard cuts and partly missing transitions, I experience the whole as a series of snapshots. No scene persists for long. Watching “HIGH TIDE” is like flipping through a photo album decades after the experiences it depicts. I observe from a distance, recognize moments. I am, however, never overcome by grief’s unpredictability, its overwhelming power. Hanna Kritten Tangsoo’s excellent lighting design lends depth to the action onstage. Shadows thrown by the bodies and a light installation that brings the darkness to organic rotation through the space manifest grief as the puppet master of brightness, as an impulsive and moody force that acts from without.

English translation by Cory Tamler

“HIGH TIDE” by and with Pauline Payen (Performance: Dorota Michalak, Lyllie Rouvière – Sound Design: Charlie Aubry aka Sacrifice Seul – Lighting Design: Hanna Kritten Tangsoo – Sound Technic/Drums: FiFi) can be seen at DOCK 11 from 30 March to 2 April 2023.