„Hopeless“, Sergiu Matis © Philip Ingman

Messengers of Hope(lessness)

Watching Sergiu Matis and his dancers move is a bit like being hit by a double-decker bus – many  times, in just a matter of seconds. Bodies crash to the floor or glide through the air, expanding in full flow orpin-pointing the focus, razor-sharp, on a single finger. Each gesture is a statement and each statement is precisely where it needs to be. Crystal clear, the split-second changes materialise as though in a near-death experience: every action could be the final one before it all ends. And it has all ended – or at least, nature has – in the first scene of Matis’s dystopian epic “Hopeless”. In the stripped-back, stark setting of a post-apocalyptic future, the performers address audience members directly, looking them in the eyes as they describe the disappearance of endangered species. They seem to be backed up by scientific knowledge, yet the three tell different versions of the same story. Perhaps this is the post-truth thoughtscape we are headed towards, where fiction is just as valid as fact?

Moving forwards in space but backwards in time, the audience is brought to the stage, where the apocalypse is in full swing. The three performers, encircled by their onlookers equipped with earplugs against the deafening noise, desperately scream instructions while frantically taping clothes to poles in a fight for survival. Their sequences are bugging as they move in glitches, hitching from point A to point B in compressed, micro-looped trips. The room vibrates, the tension climbs and the back curtain falls. The audience, now filling the tribune, looks out onto the countryside of Ancient Greece: a far-from-perfect hillside, patched together with jagged slices of lawn and a plastic river. The dancers, who earlier established a fearless proximity with their viewers, are now on the other side of the classical divide of the proscenium arch. This newfound gap between audience and performers creates the necessary distance for the dynamite at the core of the work to explode.

A Greek chorus erupts, and the prescribed rhythm of the pastoral poems takes over. A tempest of fierce emotions flashes across their faces: demonic cackling turns into brooding turns into crying in despair. It’s as though the performers are momentarily possessed by wildly different characters, each channeled only for a matter of seconds – just long enough for the viewer to grasp but not long enough to form a sense of attachment. I am reminded of my morning’s scroll: lazily, I flicked through a series of long, sun-kissed beaches, unexpectedly contrasted by a cluster of maggots courtesy of The World’s Most Disgusting Foods. Nature is indeed beautiful, in the Insta-Age.

As I walk to thestation I overhear a conversation between three disgruntled audience members,evidently unimpressed by the stamina required for the two-and-a-half hour piece.“I have seen other things by him and they all have this unbearable qualityabout them.” They were perhaps referring to Matis’s never-ending crescendos, inwhich the energy is repeatedly pushed up into peaks, but never droppedcompletely. And with no final destination, Matis’s endings are certainlyanti-climactic. But I find there is an urgency to this “unbearable quality” -an immediacy that uproots us from our everyday normalisation of globalcatastrophes.

“Your corpses will burn.” As carriers of disaster, loss, and hopelessness, the dancers battle against the coming doom and shout to make their message heard. “Your corpses will feed.” Gaia, nourished by the ashes. Maybe hope is on the horizon and, regardless of how we conceive of her, nature will prevail.