Brighton Year-Round 2022
Funded by The Dutch Embassy London & Arts Council Funding England with support from South East Dance and Vincent Dance Theatre, award-winning dance theatre maker Ester Natzijl brings an in-development preview of a work that combined movement and puppetry, drawing “interviews and research undertaken over 12 months. “The project explored what the concept of Grace means, or could mean to people and how we can visualise the experience of Grace. The soundtrack of the show interweaves extracts of the voices of interviewees.”
We rarely review previews of shows here at FringeReview , but I am glad to say this intriguing is already more than ready to be seen. Indeed, there’s an excitement around it in the after-show audience feedback and discussion. It is always good to leave a preview already resolving to see it again further down its developmental road.
A multi-disciplinary piece of dance theatre, rooted in Heinrich von Kleist‘s book ‘On the Marionette theatre‘, makes precise use of the uniquely cosy yet large St Mary’s Theatre. A stage is physically set and organ music greets us as we, the audience, process along the aisle, taking our places in pews for what will be a journey of above and below.
Ester Natzijl is a master of her marionette and one of the few dance-theatre performers who moves with her puppets, joins with them, is even seemingly, on occasions led by them. A soundscape integrates, disembodied voices in the accompanying light. The church setting is apt, yet this piece could well occur in other venues, perhaps even a Spiegeltent, where a turning disco ball is the icon for grace bestowed as light down to us from high. Yes, there is the pathway the church promises as its default, a pathway to grace.
We look upwards, humble in prayer, we ask for grace from above, Yet what is grace? Is it to be found in mercy, in the unblocking of the blocked, the easing or removal of pain, in enlightenment and resolution? Does consciousness increase, the higher we reach? Contemporaries of von Kleist, such as Goethe explored such things in different yet connected ways at a time when the search for enlightenment was its own upwardly spinning gesture.
Through rigorous yet ongoing research we have here fundamental questions explored through puppetry and what sometimes feels like an engaging seminar in voice, text and movement. And it is all about inquiry, and little about certainty. The styles of movement very, the pace quickens then settles in stillness. There is much variety here among some repeating motifs.
Then there is the road perhaps less travelled. Can we lift the marionette into life, into a grace that is itself graceful movement? Can the lifeless wooden parts crafted as limbs, body, head and strings (Ester brings her marionette to thrilling life), be raised into flight and flow? Should we surrender all in the hope that grace can be found from the flat ground upwards? As above, so below? (You can see I came away with many questions).
This is a developing piece, rich in philosophy, in humour and in the disturbing unknown. As the work develops the marionette will be more precisely lit (and deserves to be) and some of the narrative will settle more cogently. As it is, it is literally research and development, bold and already ready to watch and to appreciate. I came away wondering, and wondering is a fine gift.
We are addressed directly, we are posed questions she is asking and thus Finding Grace easily becomes a generously offered shared experience. What is grace? Indeed, what is grace? Will grace itself bestow its answer upon us? I was more than happy to be part of this exciting inquiry. I think you might just be too.