Panta Rei Dance Theatre

Following my own advice from the last review I wrote for a Beehive event ‘go and see something you know little or nothing about’ I accompanied my friend to what was for me a mystery night. It turned out to be an extraordinary evening.

True I had seen a lot of contemporary dance whilst living in London, in that culture laden life I used to live, so maybe I knew more than many about what to expect, but I knew nothing of the company Panta Rei Danseteater from Oslo in Norway or their production The House GranNabo (GranNabo a contraction of the words for neighbour in Swedish and Norwegian).

Five young and exceptionally fit dancers had me enthralled from the moment they stepped into their performance space. The set was a very versatile framework of white metal open structures with differing height platforms, dressed with pot plants and cups, binoculars and umbrellas. They moved effortlessly and precisely as one would expect a well-trained dancer to do but they also acted so well with expressive faces and body language. There was possibly a little too much literal narrative for me in this first piece, which was an odd feeling to have as I always want that in contemporary dance but when I get it, it’s too much; but that’s my issue and I’m sure it’s easier for them to connect with audiences on a small provincial tour when work is more representative. The piece developed and moved along to the original music by Nathaniel Reed at quite a pace barely slowing from the initial quite frenetic pace. There was a particularly lovely assisted lift from one dancer of another, using the set framework, where I swear she was floating. The set on its different levels kept you guessing as to where they would work next or who would take the lead, your head moving and eyes flitting all over the stage. I was quite tired by the interval – they must have been exhausted.

Part 2 (translated to On the Border, part one’s title didn’t translate well on the internet Yes we love you old you free) continued the theme of a house between Norway and Sweden and with a slight set adjustment and different props they were off again this time to an equally fine modern score by Tomas Elfstadius. This half was less literal I felt and had a very much more sinister tone of borders being attacked and defended, whereas part one was a happier affair. The dancers control of their bodies was for me shown to be absolute when at one point the choreographed steps stopped and the characters just behaved normally but madly, it was then in seeing contrast you realise that what seems simple and effortless is in fact very difficult and well-rehearsed.

One of the lovely parts of seeing work in a small community venue (this was put on as part of Villages in Action) like this is after the rapturous applause at the end and the company had left the stage one returned to say ‘please write in our book we’ll leave it in the foyer’ and I got to thank all five performers in person. In one part of the show they spoke and a voice was in English which puzzled me, but hey those nordic folk speak perfect English so I dismissed it as part of the multi-culturalism so when I spoke to the the guy whose English was very good it was no surprise to find he was indeed English, what was a surprise was that he was originally from Exmouth!

I told them all and I’ll tell you now, it was a truly great evening on a par with anything I had ever seen in swanky old London.

Take a chance at the Beehive, see something live.

Review by Tim Woolgar