In “Blazing Worlds”, Sergiu Matis reworks a 350-year-old science fiction text among others, for its premiere at Radialsystem (20-23 April 2023), part of the collaboration :LOVE: with Tanzfabrik Berlin.
In 1666, Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, wrote among the first works of science fiction called The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World (commonly referred to as The Blazing World). After initial fame, this would be largely deleted from history until the 1980s, but remains a strange anomaly – a female writer in a time when women were largely denied a pen, writing without a pseudonym, in a literary field which would not exist for another 200 years.
Sergiu Matis’ stage work “Blazing Worlds” takes Cavendish’s text as inspiration, resulting in a fragmented, funny work. The performance opens with the audience mingling in a first room of Radialsystem, subtlely joined by six dancers (Emilie Gregersen, Aya Toraiwa, Kasia Wolinska, Nicola Micallef, Kelvin Kilonzo, and Guilherme Morais) who announce themselves by giving and receiving frantic impulses as they explore the audience, occasionally synchronising as one catches the energy of the other. Projections in the centre scrim and rear wall of the space (video and set design: Adrian Ganea) show a mix of interrupted gestures, glacial landscapes and ancient ruins, to the sound of waves mixed with thumping techno (sound design: Andrea Parolin), giving an impression of re- and de-constructing worlds.
Following this opening, the audience is invited into the second proscenium stage – a pre-historic fantasy landscape of burnt orange and silhouetted craggly stalactites, with giant dinosaur bones strewn about the stage. The dancers pick up their disjointed movement, catching energies off each other, with one occasionally transferring or leading a movement, breaking out into an almost animalistic cry.
There is a strange humour running through “Blazing Worlds”, one exemplified by the casual clothes the dancers wear as they execute their sometimes-absurd vocabulary. The first verbal articulation – “There is a New World coming” – seems to creep out of an abject void, giving a dream-like effect. As further quotations from Cavendish come, the dancers assemble and disassemble the dino-bones, shaping them into rough humanoid figures. The dancers make formations in trios, one some triple-headed entity glaring at the audience from centre-stage, the other resembling a human caterpillar in its crawl at the rear.
The different modes of the piece assembled by dramaturg Mila Pavićević are unanimously weird and sit together unsettlingly, and the piece seems to drift between operatic and fairy-tale-like at whim: Aya Toraiwa’s story of stepping on the stones of a mossy river bank of the Tamar River looks bizarre next to a dry explanation of the second movement of Dvořák’s symphony From the New World or some sublime singing soundscapes, led by stunning throat-singing from Nicola Micallef. Repeated false endings are built-in, the most alarming of which is Kelvin Kilonzo casually addressing the audience with “thank you for coming”, before leading us around a special cave, while Guilherme Morais sits and produces a pre-made salad to eat – later, everyone blasts off in a spaceship to a synthesizer and a futurist exclamation that “we’ve been too long in a galaxy far, far away” echoing previous, slightly unnerving pleas for a “return to our world”.
“Blazing Worlds” produces a special, thoughtful silence as the audience decodes this labyrinth of textual references and movement frames, expertly deployed as tools for deception, obfuscation, and slippage. For all its absurdity or willingness to experiment, the decisions never seem random. Rather, a strange and elusive external logic is perhaps discovered, little more than a re-assemblage of fragments from the first, and encapsulated in the bodily experience through it.
“Blazing Worlds” by Sergiu Matis premiered at Radialsystem on 20 April 2023, as part of the collaboration :LOVE: with Tanzfabrik Berlin. More shows this weekend, on 22.04.2023 at 8pm (with Audiodescription & Haptic Access Tour at 7pm) and on 23.04.2023 at 6pm, tickets at radialsystem.de.