Madeleine Rose Photography
Yanaëlle Thiran’s work Swapping Shadows, was performed as a part of Resolution festival at The Place. The work is performed by Thiran herself and dancer Shivaangee Agrawal and combines Contemporary dance and classical Indian dance Bharatanatyam with musical influences reflecting this dichotomy in tracks sung in French and classical Indian scores that reflects the piece’s warm tones.
The work manages to do what dance formal in character frequently fails to do which is to remain formal in consideration yet to leave one truly entranced. It accomplishes this primarily through the quality of the dance and the variety of formal explorations within a relatively short piece. I wait in excited anticipation to see the iterations to follow because Swapping Shadows is truly an accomplishment.
The piece starts sensorially abrupt, like switching on the tv at full volume. The lights go down and before my eyes have a chance to adjust to the darkness two figures abruptly emerge in a blue light with a movement sequence in matrix foreshadowing the dance to come. Their faces are in shadow and music plays. A change of lighting to warm orange hues and the sensorially volume is turned down and the piece starts to fall together in strong scenes. The piece in aggregate is rich in confidence, detail, and skillful simultaneity and could have done to introduce itself in stages to allow us the audience to pose questions about what we’re seeing.
In the first scene the dancers move in tandem, dancing in each other’s shadows in crafted synchronicity. A floor light in the near right corner shines on the dancers and their shadows are cast like Antony Gormley silhouette giants up the back wall. A second duet of shadows. The synchronicity repeats throughout the piece in alternating spatial structures. Unison is taken out of its drab universal usage and made essential. Often in dance works unison is used to take the effect of a single human body, bound up by its spatial limitations, and compound it across a stage into a larger compositional image. In this usage choreographic unison is a tool of visual amplification. Whereas in this piece the unison was inextricably linked to the relationship between the dancers, the ways they mimic and move together. Unison with relational purpose is rare and Swapping Shadows accomplishes it with beauty and skill.
These imitating figures are a sort of simulacrum. Plato discussed two types of image making: the “copy” and the “simulacrum”. The copy faithfully copies the original. It is the first unhindered representation. The simulacrum is a copy of the copy, distorting itself with each refinement. The simulacrum distorts itself for the viewer to appear more in the likeness of the original.
We see this in the work in that we don’t see the initial copying as it would happen in the rehearsal room, the staggered delay between mover and mimicker. That first honest copy with all its incompleteness yet immediacy is not to be found here. In Swapping Shadows this first copy is instead refined into a representation, where we see the performers not copy, but manifest the likeness of the other simultaneously.
This is the distinction in that I don’t see the action of “copying”. What I see is “the copy” itself. It is an aesthetic copy, not a behavioral one. This however gives the piece a sculptural quality, as we see the likeness of one dancer re-manifest before us. It’s an imitation of forms rather than an imitation of action. This is particularly pertinent to this work because we have the use of both Bharatanatyam and Contemporary so the work uses unison to unpack these forms further. I’ve seen cross style collaborations that are conversational in structure, but this dance draws you to the form of the styles, not the dancers dancing them. It’s beautiful and considered.
The absence of touch between dancers
It’s essential to the reading of the piece that the dancers don’t touch. Because the mirrored shadowing between dancer happens without touch a sort of parallelism emerges. The feeling that these dancers aren’t occupying the same physical space crescendos throughout the piece. The dancers exist in parallel worlds whose planal divide shifts as the space and orientation between them metamorphoses. especially in the moments where they almost converge and the two shadow worlds risk collapsing into a unified dimension. It’s a well-crafted decision by Thiran and essential to our experience of these dancers moving in one another’s shadow, maintaining the illusion.
Ending with spoken text
The work wraps up with a voice recording of a poem. It serves as a distracting footnote to the otherwise intelligent and mesmerizing dance content of the piece. The piece has unbounding resonance in its dance alone that carries audience all the way to the end.
Thiran’s piece blends style, cultural context, formal dance inquiry, and imagistic lighting into an intelligent and mature piece. It accomplishes in its own way what all modally necessary art should do in that it isn’t a work that can’t be easily summed up in words. Its experiential content is such that is can’t be reduced to a statement and to translate it from dance into speech dilutes it. It must be experienced to be grasped. That it is a dance is essential to its nature and it’s therefore a real contribution to the form: an elucidation of the power of dance as a language in of itself.