Australian Dance Reviews

‘Mass-bloom explorations’: A possible future without us

Recoil Performance Group's 'Mass-bloom explorations'. Photo by Sõren Meisner.
Recoil Performance Group's 'Mass-bloom explorations'. Photo by Sõren Meisner.

Dancehouse, Melbourne.
16 November 2023.

The notion of a seven-hour durational performance may be anathema to some. Yet, as the writer Ida Marie Hede observes in the piece that MASS–bloom explorations is drawn from, there is a time and a place for such ‘wild and lazy variant[s] of progress.’

Thus, in a black box, on a mild spring day, beside a busy main road, we encounter a solitary dancer in a transparent dome. But she is not alone. Moving beside her, 200,000 meal worms (the writhing larva of the Darkening Beetle), slowly chewing their way through a collection of Styrofoam rubbish.

Here, the meditation unfolds, as Hede’s text is read out and the fast excess of human activity is gradually digested and shat out again. Meanwhile, outside, traffic rumbles, reminding us of the relentless Anthropocene acceleration that choreographer Tina Tarpgaard and her team at Copenhagen’s Recoil Performance Group are prompting us to reconsider.

The inherent juxtaposition of concept and reality is glaring. Unmissable. The practical mechanics of the performance – flying people and equipment around the world – and our presence in a comfortable theatre environment, work together to amplify the quiet churn of the worms. Creatures who will later be eaten by chickens, who will in turn be eaten by us. Whose dismembered bodies will perhaps be served in yet more plastic.

With its glacial pacing, MASS–bloom explorations gives us time. To watch and ponder but also, to remember. We live in a networked, co-emerging biosphere that continually remakes itself. Its processes may be slower, and mostly overlooked by us, yet they remain implacable. The scale of evolutionary violence far exceeds our species’ capacity for cruelty and blunder.

However stark this seems, Bloom has a gentle, inviting quality. We are allowed to join dancer Hilde I. Sandvold in the dome, to watch her gestures closely as she embodies Hede’s text. In this space, we hear the slithering of anonymous invertebrates. It sounds like drizzle falling on leaves in a forest. And they smell. Like earth. Decay and renewal. The process of life, which implies death.

As performance (artifice), it is at once a curio and a thing of awful beauty. Not pretty or virtuosic. Not entertaining. Moreover, it mutes obvious fin du monde drama in favour of an approach that is both unsettling and strangely optimistic. Indeed, Bloom dares us to think of a world reconfigured. A possible future without us.

In our hubris, we have so often acted like the only flower in the garden. Yet, thousands of meal worms lunching on the plastic manure of modernity, oblivious to conceptual art and kinaesthetic dance practise, represents a bold, planet-scale choreography. For just as Sandvold’s slow and deliberative movements take care not to harm the worms, and Hede’s repeated text invokes their remarkable capacity for plastic consumption, so too they prove that we are not, and have never been, alone.

Given this, star ratings and further critic musing seem redundant.

By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.

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