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BWW Reviews: Meditative STRUCK SILENT Captures the Sense of Aging, But Not Its Economics

Shaun Oelf and Gunilla Hammar in STRUCK SILENT
Photo credit: Oscar O'Ryan

What is most interesting about STRUCK SILENT, as a dance production in its own right as well as in the context of a series of collaborative projects by Scenkonst Sörmland and the Baxter Theatre Centre, is its intention to explore the unconventional theme of economic growth as it applies to marginalised social groups. In this case, groups of pensioners were assembled to share their stories and STRUCK SILENT is based on what those elderly citizens revealed about themselves in the opinions they shared and feelings they communicated. This is a fascinating and alternative springboard for creative work and although STRUCK SILENT certainly captures a sense of what it means to be an aging person in a modern society, the piece never fully distils its inspirations into a thesis that confronts, challenges or moves the audience in the moment of performance.

STRUCK SILENT explores its content in a conceptual manner, a montage of sequences rather than a linear progression of ideas. It makes reference, through video material played on a large flat screen television on stage, to the first piece in this series, last year's I HIT THE GROUND RUNNING. Indeed, videography is juxtaposed with choreography throughout STRUCK SILENT, incorporating imagery of the dancers moving in real environments and more abstract or mood-based filmed material, including a stop-motion video of shoes walking through a forest and footage of a body of water that washes the stage. As well as moving through space, with image and through image, the dancers move with and through an avant-garde musical score, created live on stage by three musicians. The total effect could be described as a journey through the collective subconscious of the elderly: STRUCK SILENT plays out in a dreamscape, with none of its action reflecting the violence implied by its title.

Thabisa Dinga, Gunilla Hammar and
Shaun Oelf in STRUCK SILENT
Photo credit: Oscar O'Ryan

The dance for STRUCK SILENT has been created by South African choreographer Ananda Fuchs on one dancer from Sweden, Gunilla Hammar, and two South Africans, Shaun Oelf and Thabisa Dinga. Fuchs's choreography has a sense of fluidity in terms of space and relationship. The dancers move in and out of personal and general space, through sequences of action and reaction, leading and following, supporting and being supported, and meeting and parting, with a sense of ease. Although this fluidity sits in contrast an angularity that characterises individual actions of the body and some of the shapes the body takes, Fuchs's primary concern seems to in perpetuating the myth of graceful aging, an approach that sits in tension with the piece's hopes of unpacking (economic) discrimination against the marginalised group of pensioners that are its subject. While there is a wide range of movement in STRUCK SILENT, no revelatory depth in content or meaning is evident in the work.

In her execution of the choreography, Hammar dances with her entirety, embodying the choreography not only in her physicality, but also in her facial expression and, perhaps, most importantly in her eyes. Her engagement with the themes of STRUCK SILENT is intense, the most successful of all the artists involved in this project. It might be easy to write this off as a function of the relevance of the themes of this piece to her own situation as an older dancer, but this would be to deny her artistry, which is immense.

The casting of Oelf and Dinga in STRUCK SILENT sits uncomfortably when viewed alongside the project's objective of interrogating the view that the elderly belong on the sidelines: the choice not to feature older dancers in a piece that deals primarily with the experience of the aged feels disingenuous in that respect. In terms of their performance of the choreography, both deliver cleanly articulated work, although - on opening night, at least - Oelf did not display the intense body-soul connection he has displayed in other productions and Dinga carried a great deal of tension in her neck that hindered her emotional connection with the audience.

Shaun Oelf and Gunilla Hammar in STRUCK SILENT
Photo credit: Oscar O'Ryan

The score composed by Tebogo Monnakgotla for STRUCK SILENT is mesmerising. Making use of flute (played here by Åsa Karlberg), cello (Elemér Lovotha) and percussion (Jonny Axelsson), Monnakgotla creates a soundscape that evokes the essence of memory. Snatches of popular melody lurking in the background - notably Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" - and the use of glass bowls filled with water as the basis for one section of the score aurally create a sense that each moment of life is a representation of all moments in life, a subtle observation of the experience of the aged realised in composition.

The design for STRUCK SILENT is too fragmented. The set and costume design created by Wiklund/Wiklund plays with many different elements, including a number of geometric design features, that forces the eye from one aspect of the design to the next rather than guiding the eye into the experience. When layered with the videography, which represents an inspired body of work by Oscar O'Ryan, the various visual aspects of STRUCK SILENT compete for the audience's attention and watching that competition play out is at times more compelling than the piece itself. Bennie Arendse's lighting design also needs to be reined in at times. Barring one sequence where the use of lighting and shadow is employed to magnificent effect, the lighting design is too loose in terms of its attack and composition. The dialogue between all of the voices in the design plot for STRUCK SILENT should be interrogated again in order to serve the production better.

STRUCK SILENT sets up noble goals for itself, and its ideas do not come together in a theatrically cohesive enough manner. To have an impact on the audience that shifts conditioned ideas around the participation of marginalised groups in a mainstream corporate capitalist society, STRUCK SILENT needs to be a great deal more viscerally emotive or starkly intellectual, two approaches that appeal to different mindsets and which work in diametrically opposed socio-political contexts. With a clarity of purpose but no clear target, the arrow shot by STRUCK SILENT falls short of all it hopes to achieve. While the piece certainly meditates on the challenges of aging, it fails to interrogate its economics.

STRUCK SILENT had its world premiere on 3 September in Munktellstaden, Eskilstuna, and completes a run at the Baxter Flipside in Cape Town, South African with a 2pm matinee and 6.30pm evening show today, for which tickets are available at Computicket or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet. After the run at the Baxter Theatre Centre, STRUCK SILENT will tour to Stockholms Stadsteater, Stockholm (30 September and 1 October 2014); Strängnäs, Thomasaulan, Sweden (5 October 2014); Eskilstuna Teater, Sweden (7 and 8 October 2014); Nyköpings Teater, Sweden (10 October 2014); and Katrineholm, Tallåsaulan, Sweden (11 October 2014).



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