GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Antony Gormley – ICON – “An unresolved mixture of clay and dance”

I have mixed feelings…Iconwhich premiered in 2016 in Sweden, is a combination of highly fluid dancing, a Ted Talk conference and clay.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Antony Gormley whose careers I’ve admired and follow, presented eighteen dancers from GöteborgsOperans Danskompani (the largest Nordic contemporary dance company) and five musicians whose talent and dedication is unquestionable, with more than three tons of clay that, at times, was not needed.

The 70 minute piece for me really started to get interesting when a performer, downstage left, starts a solo that sees him moulding his own body as if made of clay, making extreme faces and contorting his limbs fluidly. While he continues this exploration, moving the mass of his own body, the rest of the performers create a stereotypical pop cultured inspired scene of our times.

There is an intriguing and interesting reading here: this man trying to find and mould himself, while everybody else is just dancing around seeking cheap thrills with objects made of clay such as a camera, headphones and Coca Cola bottles. Afterwards, in a semicircle, everybody starts to mould his head made of clay. This thread, that was pulling me in, disappears somehow and gets forgotten.

GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui & Antony Gormley – ICON. Photo by Mats_Backer

Later we see an encounter of different heterosexual couples (clay boobs and big clay dick included), as if sex was about this. I was hoping it was a criticism, but again, it didn’t seem to get resolved. After the performers become buried under clay, in the end they remove their costumes and start to interact more closely with the clay.

A minuscule detail here that has a huge impact on my reading: dealing with clay as matter – this earthy, raw material, that resembles and reminds us of our bodies in its primary stage – all I could think about was, again, how these bodies, that were very interestingly different between each other, were marked by the binary signifier of their underwear; where women are covered twice and men once.

The piece left me thinking and the questions that emerged on my journey home were tapping into wider subjects: How do we give value to the performances we see? How does the place and the name of the institution has an unconscious weight on whether we are going to like it or not? Or whether we are going to feel something or not, whether we are going to be intellectually stimulated or not. What do we want to see/feel/think/share? How do we surprise ourselves with something that we do not know about? And maybe most importantly, which places are we going to in order to get what we want.

As I said, I have mixed feelings…Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s always a need of a concept, of clear narrative or non-narrative, that there’s no space for movement on its own. Of course there is, and there is so much value in the poetry of movement and its dynamics…but then move that clay away because the dancers are just tripping on it!

Reviewed on 30 November 2018 at Sadler’s Wells