Of all the ways in which Greek choreographer, Christos Papadopoulos, could have framed his latest work “Ion,” the notion of ions is probably the least satisfactory. Tassos Koukoutas description of a ‘living system of dancers’ seems far more accurate, suggesting an organic or biological collective, like swarming birds or moths, obeying a given set of unwavering principles. Yet this fails to capture the often mechanic, and robotic feel of this production. Like unalterable laws of physics Papadopoulos’ minimalist, meditative choreography compels his living system into doing mechanical things. With its focused simplicity, and pared back reductionist approach, “Ion” doesn’t so much reveal more by way of a very considerable less so much as present a different way of seeing. Even if what we see is not as rich as it might have been, “Ion’s” simple, hypnotic, trance-inducing series of micro movements, executed like physical mantras, are often mesmerising to behold.
Individually, and in various groupings, human bodies flit rapidly across a floor level beam of light, like magnetised moths. Both attracted and repelled, they move with a collective urgency. Shapes appear momentarily then disappear randomly as, gradually, ten dancers, six female, four male, naked to the waist, emerge from a talc scented fog, the urgency gradually disappearing. As the light increases, they execute a series of minimal movement sequences, founded upon a soft foot shuffle, crafting patterns which undulate, like overlapping pendulum waves in a Newton Cradle. Slowly, like a school of swallows urged on by an invisible impulse, they begin to merge and separate, shuffling in a prolonged, painstaking, slow motion sequence about the space.
With a foregrounded, simple, rhythmic pattern dominating, “Ion’s” collective cohesion creates an uneasy contrast with the subtle distinctions between individual dancers, suggesting a collective of unique individuals. Throughout, semi-naked bodies accentuate the human, a much needed counterpoint to the mechanical quality of “Ion’s” choreography, which often undermines that same humanness. Like preprogrammed robots, or figures on a Town Hall clock, bodies move but never touch, their expressions fixed, always facing forward whether the body is facing square on or side on, eyes locked in a concentrated stare fixed beyond the audience as they move along lines already pre-established. The resulting sequence often suggests a plastic proximity to life, casting the same hypnotic spell as watching ten, predominantly shaved, semi-naked, dancing Santas gyrating to a minimalist twist, with very little of the fun. Music by Coti K, endorses this sense of the mechanised and robotic. Less soundtrack and more sound design, a series of sound samples, indefinitely looped and periodically layered and expanded upon, deliver various effects and levels of engagement. From headache inducing throbs to a wonderful rhythmic sequence, like a train shuttling past, dancers respond with preprogrammed patterns, often seeming to converge for the briefest synchronised moment, before finally turning their backs to the audience.
Purveyors of durational performance art are likely to enjoy “Ion’s” prolonged physical mantras, built on a narrow range of movements on near endless repeat. If the subtle distinctions revealed suggest a variety of possibilities, the dynamics, and resulting visual experience, are often less interesting than they might have been. Feeling at times like a clever optical illusion, or a slow-moving installation, “Ion” risks looking like a one trick pony. Even so, it often proves mesmerising in its exploration of the subtle shifts between movements and moments. Like glimpsing individual frames on a slowed down film reel, “Ion,” at its best, highlights the endless expressiveness of the human body, always unique, always individual, even when merged within a predetermined collective and mechanical dynamic.
“Ion” by Christos Papadopoulos/Leon & the Wolf, runs as part of The Dublin Dance Festival 2018 at the Samuel Beckett Theatre until May 11
For more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival or Samuel Beckett Theatre