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Goddess Energy

Some choreographers integrate visuals, text and moods seemingly effortlessly. Colette Sadler is one such artist, as she has long created singular work which straddles performance art, visual art and dance. So it is with her gorgeous and meditative riposte to Daphne's punishment from Apollo, “Oracle Leaves.” In the original myth, while attempting to escape Apollo's brutal advances, Daphne is transformed into a tree. This piece pushes back, embracing an alternative vision, with a rebellious spirit at its core. It is a long, langorous stretch of limbs, a slow-burning beauty. Once you become attuned to its sparse setting, slow pace and short, angular bursts of movement, it is a performance of subtlety and invention, at once post-modern and traditional, using a unique methodology to steer the narrative into unknown places. There's even a reference to Artificial Intelligence within the script.

Performance

Colette Sadler: Oracle Leaves: Portraits of Daphne”

Place

Tramway, Glasgow, UK, February 24, 2023

Words

Lorna Irvine

“Oracle Leaves” by Colette Sadler. Image courtesy of Colette Sadler

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The excellent cast of four—Leah Marojevic, Jia-Yu Corti, Sophia Burandt and Mickey Mahar—play various facets of Daphne's character, and the performance is divided into various chapters, or portraits. The music and sound, created by Cassandra Miller, Heiko Tubbesing and Samir Kennedy, wraps around the room, enveloping everyone. It's sometimes organic and comforting, sometimes brutal: “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” to quote Alfred Tennyson. There is a heady smell of incense filling the air, and props which look like wild mushrooms emulate a woodland scene which becomes an erratic, perilous terrain. It all makes for a rich, multi-layered experience. The largest prop, which lights up with UV rays, resembles a rock formation, but doubles up as a vaginal sculpture, totem of motherhood.

Dance elements allude to tableaux vivants and a soupcon of Folies-Bergere, with sculptural poses as Sadler interrogates female agency and autonomy—or the lack thereof. The beginning focuses on prone bodies, with imperious gesticulations—hands outstretched and fingers curled. There are nods to the elegance and iconoclastic gestures of Isadora Duncan, scenes which both homage and pastiche the etiquette of courtly dance, and Loie Fuller's iconic “Serpentine Dance” with a billowing gown is gorgeously rendered, albeit with a wilder, more contemporary energy. An impish Corti mocks her own transformation into a tree, declaring out loud; “A tree? Really? I will be here forever. Well, I won't mind if a fox pisses on me . . . ”

Mimesis too, is a key factor in understanding the development of the piece. In one thrilling segment, “Daphne as Hunter,” Marojevic performs Daphne completely solo with a virtuosic physicality that is absolutely jaw-dropping. She flits between emulating first rider, then horse, and finally circles around her prey, dropping down exhausted, as the sound of wounded animals howl in the background. It's never parodic, but absolutely visceral.

“Oracle Leaves” by Colette Sadler. Image courtesy of Colette Sadler

Halfway through, the gentle tone shifts to something entirely more trippy. It's extraordinary: the cast, slowing the pace of movement down even more, seem to inhabit a kind of shamanic, hallucinatory dream-state, and the sound warps and resonates. It's evocative of a desert scene under a carapace of stars, with a roaring campfire, and the ritualistic imbibing of peyote for enlightenment.

Ultimately, it's all about the liminal spaces—the elusive, hard to define stories that live deep within us. “Oracle Leaves” occupies the light and shade around the female mystique. I am often reminded at points of Björk's recent album Fossora, which explores feminine energy and nature, and also of Sally Potter's wonderful film adaptation of Orlando, the Virginia Woolf novel, which featured Tilda Swinton changing gender and moving through the centuries. But it's very much its own universe: a beguiling, bewitching re-imagining of Daphne as goddess, survivor and warrior, transcending and ascending, with dignity, power and a huge erotic charge. It's complex dance theatre that pushes against limitations and simple definitions.

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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