‘Reune’ an evening of dance and film | review

Words by Sophie Chinner. Reune was performed 7th August at the Playground Theatre.

9:30am on a Sunday morning blanketed with rain clouds — not that I could see them as I was sat in the underground, but their oppression lingered with me. I tapped away at my little screen on the notes app, trying to cultivate some words for the night before, the right ones. My eyes, retaining the memory of sleep, fell into the blackened windows whilst Peggy Gou’s ‘Starry Night’ started playing through my AirPods. Her lyrics “Moment. Now. Us” resonates as I am thinking about Reune; not necessarily in a poetic way but just for sheer accuracy. We were there, in that moment, in the now, all of us togetherMasked up or not, we sat for several hours; shoulder to shoulder in the same theatre, strangers and old faces, friends and colleagues, some I had not seen for several months, years even… 

It was slightly overwhelming at first. It had been some time since I had experienced live dance, and knowing I would be writing up a written reflection afterwards was slightly daunting. Most of the audience was made up of members of the dance community, which in turn brought with it an intensity, a restlessness of sorts. As the show progressed, I realised this feeling was actually one of excitement, a sense of comradeship, of appreciation for one another and a deep sense of gratitude for the night we received. ImmediatelyI acknowledged that this is what ‘artists supporting artists’ truly looks like, not just a double tap on an Instagram reel. 

Reune, a project six months in the making, was curated by Emma Farnell-Watson and Joshua Smith; both dancers of extraordinary ability. They are genuine, passionate people that I am proud to say are at the forefront of bringing dance back to the stages in a world still recovering from the pandemic. It is a sensitive subject of course; the past year has been brutal and arduous, presenting complication after complication, disruption and trauma. Yet, I applaud the arts as a business for being an industry built from resilience and adaptability. As artists, it is our purpose to be constantly responding creatively to the world surrounding us. We question and contemplate. We provoke and instigate change. It is almost impossible to control our need to express. This may be our job, but it is also our freedom. We believe in connection and perseverance, and this is what Reune was all about — reuniting the community.

Since the eruption of Covid19, the production of digital dance work has massively accelerated. Artists have had little choice but to turn to their cameras and explore new ways of performing. It is interesting to me that Reune chose to include digital dance pieces alongside live work in the programme, but it totally worked. 

Emotionally the pieces varied. The short film ‘What Lies Beyond: A Moving Experience’ is extremely evocative in tone. It researches an altruist relationship between two movers using dance as therapy. The beauty of their improvised movements combined with ethereal cinematography and seamless editing all contribute towards how impacting and moving the film is. Another short from the night ‘Ruins’, co-directed by FUBUNATION, is poignant in its exploration of the intersectionality between masculinity and race. The grading of the film was stunning and the action, set to the backdrop of the majestic Victoria and Albert Museum, tenderly exposes the toxicity of the patriarchy and racism — in turn reconstructing our ideas of vulnerability and unity. 

Image: Jennifer McCord.

Celine Fortenbacher’s ‘Putzi’ brought humour to the night. The film’s protagonist, a naive and juvenile creature, graces through the world with a feverish delight for the mundane. Other films like ‘Fagtasy’, explore the experience of queer people and their expressed realities. ‘Patients’ meditates on the lockdown experience and pressures put on relationships and mental health. All in all, the mix exemplifies the huge assortment of work shown on the night.

Just as the Roaring Twenties was a reaction to a time of oppression and social unrest, the return to theatres could mark a pivotal moment for the creative industry, and I am keen to see how fresh work will push the boundaries of what is normally expected from a night of dance. ‘Master of None’ created and danced by Celine Fortenbacher, is both improvised and intelligent in the way it opens up a dialogue around the modern day problem of our online identities. Perhaps work like this faces a kind of ‘new wave’ for the creative movement, perpetuating not only a motivation to better our industry but also the world around us. 

The whole show in general had quite a nostalgic feeling for me; solo pieces like ‘Insignificant’ choreographed and performed by the talented James Olivo, the liberating piece ‘Off’ by Jack Thompson and the empowering number ‘OLIVE’ choreographed and performed by Anna Engerstrom reminded me how much I miss performing live on stage, the anxieties as well as the adrenaline. I was amazed that after a year most shocking and strange, the pieces were executed to the point where you could not tell the dancers had spent any time away from the stage. 

They were totally themselves, totally present. Witnessing their professionalism and strength, I got lost in the escapism of the night and again just felt blessed to be there. Organised on three sides of the action, meaning that if you were sat on the left or right hand side, you could just about make out the audience sat opposite you watching the show and feel their energy give light to the black box darkness. It was pretty special. I hope there are many more nights like this to come. 

Header image: Jennifer McCord.