Stories of Bonds and Separations

“Forces of Nature” by Ivana Müller, shown at Uferstudios on 12 and 13 October 2021 in the frame of Tanzfabrik Berlin’s autumn season, is an hour-long exploration of the notion of interdependence and collective effort. Unlike many other works that question the concept of group dynamics, “Forces of Nature” is literal and straight forward and allows for as many interpretations as the spectators’ imagination can produce. Bound by climbing ropes and a common goal, the dancers negotiate each gesture and movement as they slowly weave an odd rope-made shelter just to unlace it again at the end. In this smart and deftly staged show, Müller reflects on common effort, ecologies of togetherness and, quite unexpectedly, makes me reflect on my own stories of bonds and separations.

Five dancers appear from behind the thick black curtains to the tinkling of the carabiners attached to the multicoloured ropes at their waists. They are tied to one another and the distance between each dancer is maintained throughout the show — the ropes must remain taut. This means that each movement is constrained and even a couple of steps can become an arduous task. Yet the performers soon engage in more complex endeavours. They start by lacing the bright climbing ropes into an intricate mesh that they then attach to the rigging. It will become, in the end, what they will call their temporary shelter. The performers talk. A lot. Everyday stories, memories, anecdotes and short dialogues are exchanged as they patiently weave their web. I listen to them attentively at first and record their conversations diligently in my notebook. But soon, lulled by the dancers’ voices and the steady pace of the show, I indulge in dreaming up my own stories of bonds and separations, inspired by the show’s conceptual framework.

I see a long strip of sand and a bank of black clouds rapidly approaching a tiny island. Five shipwrecked survivors take refuge under a torn sailcloth, but night is falling and the tent poles aren’t strong enough to carry the weight of the damp fabric. Two of them head into the woods to search for dry wood, while the three others stay on the beach and keep watch for rescuers. They manage to construct a sturdy shelter and cling in vain to the last glimmer of hope that they might be rescued. 

A dozen students sit on a campus lawn. They hardly know each other. They are preparing for a Sunday protest, painting witty slogans onto cardboard banners. One girl tells the others that if the police try to arrest one of them, they should sit on the ground with their arms locked together. “We should stay together at all costs and not let them lock us up!” she says. For two long hours they rehearse their sit-in protest. They don’t yet know that the coming Sunday will be the first day of a lifelong friendship.

A couple pick yet another fight in the kitchen. They are so trapped in this loveless marriage that at times they forget that they have an eight-year-old son, who is now hiding behind the kitchen door. When his parents start yelling, he covers his ears and bursts into tears. There is hardly anything that can console him. His whole world is falling into pieces. Today he will not come home from school. His parents will search for him, but will eventually abandon hope.

A crowd of slaves are marching to the quarry in the summer heat. They are shackled at the ankles and the deafening clang of their chains is unbearable. Suddenly an old man shrieks and collapses into the dust. His leg is swelling quickly and his face is distorted in pain. What will the others do? Do they halt their march and allow the overseers to unchain and kill the old man? Or can they hoist him up onto their shoulders and later try and patch his wounds?

Now my attention is drawn back to the stage. The dancers slowly dismantle the shelter that they have woven and leave the stage. They remain firmly tied to each other, moving not as a group any more, but rather as a single organism. During the long moment of silence before the first rounds of applause I close my eyes and dream of a starry sky. I think about the hundreds of constellations and the invisible dotted lines that someone once sketched over them in order to populate the Cosmos with mythical creatures and heroes. After the show, I leave the theatre quickly, looking up and secretly hoping to find The Big Dipper and connect the bowl to the handle. But there is not a single star to be seen — not the slightest twinkle to relieve the darkness of a cloudy autumn sky.

Forces of Nature: Concept, Text, Choreography, Scenography — Ivana Müller in collaboration with the performers — Julien Gallée-Ferré, Daphné Koutsafti, Julien Lacroix, Irina Solano, Vincent Weber — and in collaboration with: Scenography — Alix Boillot | Costumes — Suzanne Veiga Gomes | Artistic Collaborators — Anne Lenglet, Jonas Rutgeerts | Lighting Design and Technical Coordination — Fanny Lacour | Soundscape — Cornelia Friederike Müller |Production — I’M COMPANY (François Maurisse, Gerco de Vroeg, Suzanne Veiga Gomes).

Touring dates are available on the website of the artist