Dance Reflections: Infini and When We Speak I Feel Myself, Opening – Sadler’s Wells, London

Choreographers: Boris Charmatz and Serafinei1369

… And five, six, seven, eight. Counting is integral to dance; counting in, counting the beat, counting time and Boris Charmatz’s Infinity is a homage to the importance of counting both in this art form and in society. As part of Van Cleef and Arples Dance Reflections festival at Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern and the Royal Opera House, Infinity is partnered with Serafinei1369’s piece When We Speak I Feel Myself, Opening – it proves a diverse evening.

Infinity transforms the Sadler’s Wells main house, creating a traverse stage with seats on both sides of the room. As an abstract, even absurdist piece, its meaning and purpose are hard to grasp as five dancers perform chaotically choreographed individual movements while counting. For the most part with no music – the latest dance trend – it combines ballet, contemporary and other forms of physical athleticism and movement as well as finding different physical connections between the performers who are alone and yet together. Charmatz’s piece eludes and frustrates as much as the energy and effort of the dancers impresses.

The counting is exhausting to observe, as it is intended to be, sometimes just saying sequential numbers, other times years of someone’s life, and even sheep as a clownish silliness emerges. Later, it becomes a documentation exercise of historical events from the fourteenth century to the present day, an interest in French history superseded by birth years of the famous. Several sequences are repeated as counting stops, leaps to a new figure and starts again while Yves Godin’s stage-level rotating lights flash like mini-lighthouses. But what impression does it leave? It’s hard to imagine the dancers wanting to ever perform this again or whether the purpose of Infinity is any clearer to them than it is to us.

Over in the Lilian Baylis Studio, another kind of dance is showcased, choreographed by Serafinei1369, a performance art duet that explores the balance and experience of movement itself. Staged in grungy black, performers Serafinei1369 and Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome descend from harness hammocks to draw back leather curtains revealing a large dish of water around which their ritualistic dance unfolds.

Although in some respects as equally elusive as Charmatz’s piece, When We Speak I Feel Myself, Opening has a stylistic drive and purpose that uses lighting designed by Jackie Shemesh to spotlight and conceal the movement of the dancers whose performance is controlled by a bell sound. There is a spiritualism that runs through this one-hour performance as each dancer responds to the bell in turn and showcases almost contrasting approaches, one sharper almost machine-like, the other fluid and flexible.

When We Speak I Feel Myself, Opening is more successful in conveying its message than Infinity, perhaps, although both feel like works in progress or philosophical musings determined to leave the viewer with more questions than answers. In that they succeed admirably.

Infinity runs until 23 March and When We Speak I Feel Myself, Opening until 24 March 2022.

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