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Care

It may seem strange for all of the supposed progress being made in understanding medical matters that there is still a societal stigma in how we lean into issues around mental health in 2021. Creating an effective discourse around it, in order to normalise it, is incredibly important. Art is a great platform for tackling big issues, such as depression and anxiety. Dance, then, can express with bodies something that can be hard to say out loud, for fear of othering, rejection, or being cast aside, either from friends, loved ones, or employers in a working environment.

Performance

Fuora Dance Project: “Songs from the Other Side,” screened as part of Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival from November 29-December 6, 2021.

Place

Lorna Irvine

Words

Lorna Irvine

Fuora Dance Theatre's “Songs from the Other Side.” Photograph by Maria Falconer

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This is where Fuora Dance Project come in. Part gig-theatre, part dance performance, “Songs from the Other Side,” filmed and edited by Lucas Chih-Peng Kao, is a thing of great care, sensitivity and delicacy. It starts simply enough, with a chatty, meta-narrative from the ensemble about setting up the performance as they do so, but it transforms into something more knotty entirely. The performers, who dance and sing, are clad in neutral coloured, casual clothes—these are both functional and symbolic, as they could be comfortable rehearsal dancers' clothes, or the pyjamas worn by patients—this is further reinforced by a scene with stark pale blue lighting from Michaella Fee, reminiscent of a hospital ward. The only props are light boxes which are moved around a bare floor.

At first, too, the music, performed by Nicolette Macleod and Seweryna Dudzinska, is deceptively simple, a cappella, a la Björk's Medúlla. Voices are percussive, with hums, sighs, ahhs and clicks of the tongue, creating a warm and reassuring tone—but when they overlap, become a cacophony, that's when things start to unravel. The movement is rigorous and instinctive, with an improvisational force. Initially, it seems like the emulation of a circuit board, two dancers working in tandem; with choppy limbs, but always casting elegant shapes.

Fuora Dance Theatre's “Songs from the Other Side.” Photograph by Maria Falconer

The electronic music and dancers are, it could be implied, symbiotic, as body and mind. The two do not always work in reality: there is always fragility, the wiring can become broken. All of us are fragile, susceptible to external influences and inner torment. These bodies, so assured and in sync, start to ‘glitch’ as the music slows, and are suddenly shrouded in darkness. A beautiful song is introduced by the words: “It's a process of questioning . . . it's a crucial part of who we are.”

One of the most powerful scenes is that of dancers (Giovanni Luca Braccia and Selene Travaglia) lying prone on the ground, head to head. Their arms and hands are tangled at the head, eyes covered, then they completely envelop one another, as if shielding against the world. Softly, they roll together, back and forth, as though one whole entity, rising like a crustacean until working again in tandem, leading one another, acting as each others' eyes.

Voices in the soundtrack become increasingly enmeshed, saying, “I want to dissolve,” and “I want to become other; animal, object.” Lifts are slow, tentative, a symbol of great care, being held and held up, being seen by another. Light softens from stark blue to warm orange, as a dance solo becomes more loose of limb, more resilient, shoulders unstiffening, and a head held aloft. But again, the voices overlap, thicken, and turn into a cacophonous babble. This is the struggle—to quieten the voices that drown out human strength, causing doubt. Such voices are emblematic of self-gaslighting, the everyday anxiety, and recovery is never a simple linear trajectory.

This can best be exemplified in the piece's most disturbing scene. Travaglia manifests through her movements hyperventilating, a terrible panic attack: she claws at herself, as though trying to get out of her own skin, attempting with each twist and turn of her body to slow down and centre herself, count slowly, breathe and self-soothe. She walks unsteadily like a sleepwalker on wires, a tangled mass which seem to represent the brain's neurotransmitters, until finally scooping them up with both hands, a metaphor perhaps for directly confronting obstacles. It is hard to watch, rather traumatic as it is authentically rendered. I have suffered panic attacks, and Travaglia's depiction resonated profoundly with me.

The final studio routine though, offers a glimpse of hope and real positivity. There is a sense of resolution, things finally coming together into sharp focus, with a euphoric and sweeping mirroring dance, perfectly in tune. Somehow, we find a way ahead, one step in front of the other—even, sometimes, if it is just baby steps.

We are, all of us, works in progress.

Available online at Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival until 6th December, 2021.

Lorna Irvine


Based in Glasgow, Lorna was delightfully corrupted by the work of Michael Clark in her early teens, and has never looked back. Passionate about dance, music, and theatre she writes regularly for the List, Across the Arts and Exeunt. She also wrote on dance, drama and whatever particular obsession she had that week for the Shimmy, the Skinny and TLG and has contributed to Mslexia, TYCI and the Vile Blog.

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