“LUFT”, Nir de Volff & Theater o.N. ©Bernhard Musil

The Colourful World of Lightness

LUFT” is a dance performance for the audience from age three and up, created in collaboration between Nir de Volff and Theater o.N. It premiered at DOCK 11 on 2 March 2023. The theatre bustles with the energy of excited children on the Sunday afternoon of 5 March, when Inky attends the last show.

As the sound of audiences’ clapping trailis off after the performance, an acquaintance who sits on my right asks me, “So, how was it?” Not knowing how to answer, I hesitate. The acquaintance fills in the silence by saying, “That was a lot.” I respond with, “Yes. There were many sections within the 40 minutes of the show. Maybe it’s because they tried to pack it with stimuli so that they won’t lose children’s attention?” To this, the acquaintance comments that every moment in the performance was a highlight. And that is how the piece felt. Full of constantly shifting focal points of colours, lights, movements, sounds, and textures. 

The performance opens with the peaceful sound of chirping birds and a large ambiguously shaped golden object made of thin plastic sitting on the upstage left. A machine pumps out hazy snakes of fog. A dancer dressed in shiny violet unitard with pink frills hanging from his right shoulder, Mouafak Aldoabl, squirms out from behind the object and dances. His movements look fluid and effortless, yet virtuosic. When he performs a handstand, a child exclaims, “Wow”, which makes other audience members laugh. 

As Aldoabl exits the stage, Medhat Aldaabl enters in a golden unitard, with artificial flowers and grass tacked on his left shoulder. His movements show an angular and muscular quality. He introduces the tie between breath and movement by making loud breathing sounds as he points to his chest, and letting the movement of the chest resonate out to his arms in repetition. From this point on, all of his movements are accompanied by audible sounds of his breath. 

Aldaabl exits and the last dancer, Renan Manhães appears in their turquoise unitard with bright blue frills hanging from both sides of their pelvis, which reminds of a ballet tutu. They exude an air of flamboyance, as they dance elegantly in clear relationship to their breath. All three dancers present creature-like manners with individual characters and movement qualities. 

Following the three movement solos are short scenes of varying duets and trios. Stage lights and music shift quickly one after the other, and the movements of the dancers are almost always big, fast-paced, and energetic. At one point, the golden object gets filled with air and comes alive to a big bird. The overall mood of the performance is playful. At the end of the piece, bubbles are blown out from the ceiling at three different spots. Each performer dances wildly under each bubble machine. Although the intensity of this dance may have been intended to be lightened up by the distraction of the bubbles, I witness a moment of honest expression of emotional darkness in Aldoabl, as he dances with abandon. This transparency shared vulnerably without a mask of a put on character moves me. 

After the performance, everyone is invited to come onto the stage to play. The first ones to swarm out are the smallest children around the age of 3. Then some adults join, then some older children. As I stand on the stage and look around the little children trying inversions and throwing their bodies around, I am mesmerised by how little physical fear children have and how intelligent their bodies are. Then I wonder, ‘What about their emotional sensitivity and intelligence? Are we not underestimating their emotional abilities by presenting them only fun and spectacular things? Wouldn’t teaching them how to not be afraid of recognising, facing, processing, and expressing dark emotions help them with their mental health as they grow into young adults? Is darkness “bad”?’ 

When I ask Aldaabl what makes this dance a children’s piece, he answers that it is the focus on staying light. He explains how the artistic team deliberately avoided residing in dark moments or using harsh breaths, in order not to scare off the children. Because the technique of connecting breath and movement can easily bring out dark sides of him, he says that it is much easier to perform works for adults. I ask him if children really would not be able to take darkness. He answers firmly, “No, they won’t. They are so sensitive.” He further shares how the performance was consciously trying to catch children’s attention with different things, such as the vibrant colours of the dancers’ nail polish, the lights, the bird… He says the reason they used the bird is because somehow children love birds. Listening to this, I cannot help but ask myself if it is not an oversimplification and underestimation of children’s emotional ability to assume their sensitivity to equal their inability to digest deeper content. I realise, however, I cannot be a judge of this question, as I am not a child! So, instead of overthinking, as many adults tend to do, I decide rather to remember what Aldaabl pointed out as the most important message of this piece: To not forget to breathe. 

On the subway ride back home, I take a deep inhale and exhale, and let my inner child take joy in the colourful world I have been invited into. 

“LUFT” (3+) by Nir de Volff and Theater o.N. premiered on 2 March 2023 at DOCK 11.

Concept / Choreography: Nir de Volff/Total Brutal – Performance: Medhat Aldaabl, Mouafak Aldoabl, Renan Manhães – Costume: Moran Sanderovich – Music: Daniel Benyamin – Lighting design: Asier Solana – Air Object: Frank Fierke – Artistic project management / Dramaturgy: Vera Strobel.