‘A sense of wonder’ Groundmarks Project | review

Words by Adam Moore.

Laure Dubanet, Teresa Skamletz, Jessy Mackay, and Mathie Duchy commune with and for each other, the audience, and everything living in the Sydenham Hill woods. Calling to each other as they dart through the undergrowth, a mellifluous chorus of birdsong comes from every direction. Unsure if we are following these sounds or if these sounds are following us, we walk together slowly along well-trodden paths that take us deeper into the woods and further away from the suburban surroundings beyond the gate.

We arrive at a bridge that cuts through a large bowl of space where the worn earth looks soft and warm. We stop beneath a large tree, the largest in this part of the woods. Looking up at its branches fanning out, below its crown reaching majestically into the sky, its leaves are a much darker green than those belonging to the trees that tower above, whose bright green leaves appear almost yellow against this strong and humble monument, a beautiful beacon of life. We sit for some moments, bathing in the atmosphere, shaded at the base of this tree where we stop to rest and watch the performance from the bridge.

Stills from the performance

Like the birds, we hear the performers first as they call to each other, energetically negotiating the territory of their performance in a matching quartet of counter-calls — echolocating one another — before gently rambling into view, drawing closer to the textures of the woods, and nestling comfortably closer to the audience. One performer inverts, draping themselves over a nearby tree at the edge of the clearing.

One performer lies down on the ground in the clearing where no plants grow. The others stand further off, in and amongst the tall green undergrowth, harmonising elongated vowel sounds — an antiphonal trio where their overlapping songs merge into one. The body on the ground merges with the melody, beginning a meditative solo. Limbs stir, waving close to the ground, like leaves pushed along by the wind. Gradually the dance whirs into spinal flexions and extensions that take the dancer onto their knees, before rising into the warm air suspended snugly between the surrounding beams and boughs that beautifully frame this dance. 

Over and under the wooden guard rails and past the audience, the performers cross the narrow boardwalk together before tumbling down the shallow bank alongside the bridge. Resting in their scattered landing, we compare the shapes and sizes of these bodies with the trunks and stumps gathered below. Diffusing into the spacious polyphony of the woods, the instrumentalised choral vocal breathes effortlessly and invisibly. The performers begin a repetitive ensemble motion, clambering up the bank from the timber grave yard towards us, only to skid and stumble down again and again. 

Back in the clearing, the quartet scuffle into a rise and fall motif of abandon, tipping into rolling, tumbling, skidding, and sliding, accompanied by a pure, sustained harmony that sounds like flutes, pipes, and horns. The performers gather momentum. An archaic drum beats, thundering in the distance. From here on out, the dancers swiftly brush through vertically without fully visiting this posture. Instead, they combine light bounces that take them through various seated upright positions, and fling their entire bodies off on diagonals that leap back into and across the ground towards the audience, spiralling and pivoting, whizzing into the sound — and the woods — that envelopes us.

In the forb of the understory across the floor of the forest, in the resonance of the birdsong carrying tunefully, in the movement of the breeze cooling the comfortably tepid air under the shade of the canopy, the Groundmarks project transmits a sense of awe and wonder.

Stills from the performance

For more information, head to Groundmarks’ Instagram.

A piece by Hannah Wallace and Heloise Tunstall-Behrens. Dancers: Laure Dubanet, Jessy Mackay, Teresa Skamletz, Mathie Douchy. Design: Josie Owen. Photography: Kim Chi Le. Film: Becca Hunt

About Groundmarks: Groundmarks is a dance performance project exploring the experience of the moving, sensing body within a constantly evolving landscape- how we can find our ground in an embodied relationship with other life that we as humans share space with.