By Neus Pastor
Silence, not just music, and pauses, not only actions, conducted the plot of a play performed by a cast of elderly people to create ‘Circuit’, a visual poem produced by the Danish company: Svalholm. Performing at Aarhus’ BORA BORA, they highlighted that art is not a matter of age, but a matter of passion.
Everything started with darkness and deep, mysterious sounds from the stage. Suddenly, a shape appeared on the scene. The music became louder. The lights began to play a laboured game. Something seemed to want to escape. Something seemed to want to be born, to be seen by the public.
Solo dancer Sisse Lunøe lay in the floor, listening to an inner rhythm, performing in spasms and showing an amazing command of contention and energy. A mastery of the body. A wide range of emotions were drawn into people’s faces. From frustration and surprise, to fear, when the shape suddenly revealed a naked body, which was now standing. Staring calmly.
In real life, all began with a senior club of no more than 10 people, and none of them were either younger than 60 years old or professional performers. They didn’t know each other before the meetings, but they were just a way to enjoy time together. “It was just for talking. We were usually about 10 people, but only six from the club joined the initiative,” explained Lissie Koch Madsen, one of the performers. She used to work as a civil servant in the municipal transport administration of Aarhus, and now, she dances.
Ladies and gentlemen having fun (photo: Svalholm)
“In my young days I acted sometimes, but just as an amateur actress,” she explained, assuring that she never imagined that a lot of people would be surprised and challenged by what they were doing ‘just for fun’. “This is a very interesting thing for me. None of us are professional actors or actresses, we are just old ladies and gentlemen”, she added, laughing.
Time and transformation
Later, the attention was focused on a big mirror ball, which hung on a wire above the stage floor. A pendulum swing that perhaps symbolised the world’s rotation, orbit motion, time flowing and passing in circles and spirals. Ageing. The cast filled the stage playing with light, interacting with each other and concentrating the audience’s eyes on the ball. They developed a tender and neutral choreography that made the audience feel part of it.
The big mirror ball kept our concentration (photo: Svalholm)
More than 15 performers that were not spectators but makers of the facts, connected movements as natural as life, in a way that suggested this intimate group dance could be the result of improvisation. However, it was not: action progression was calculated to send a message that was open to interpretation about the electrical, biological and physiological connections that conform human beings. It is about circuits that change slowly, making humans grow.
Nønne Mai Svalholm – performing instructor, choreographer, producer and director for Svalholm – was inspired by the real concerns of elderly people and the ways in which they move and interact in their daily lives. “She is the one with all these crazy artistic ideas. She wanted to work and create a performance with elderly people for some years… So, we went everywhere we could to approach them and explain the project,” explained the play’s producer, Sine Riisager.
Beginning the process
Then, two years ago, the company started a laboratory to find out – in Riisager’s words – “what do these people contain; what thoughts are in their minds, what can they do with their anatomy.” They spent more than six months meeting once a week, every Thursday for two hours, with a group of approximately 30 people around their sixties. They devoted the first hour to getting to know each other better. “We talked about desire, passion, love, life, death…everything! And the second hour was for physical exercises. Based on that, we started creating the performance,” clarified Riisager.
Some of the people who attended the laboratory group are still on the stage, although others left, and there are also people who joined later. Surprisingly, five of them have been acting in ‘Circuit’ just for two weeks. “Working with the elderly is handling a living organism,” remarked Svalholm’s company representative. “Some performers drop out because of many reasons, such as disease, travels… The possibility of death in the group even exists, but we always try to integrate people and create a good dynamic, which is the most important thing,” she concluded. And their efforts are worthwhile. The European Union funded the initiative and, during 2017, ‘Circuit’ will go on tour around Denmark.
Finally, lights shone, making the shadows leave, the music ended and the whole group formed a line, looking directly at the audience. Some smiled, some remained serious, standing, but all of them shared with the audience the question of time passing. We all relished in this communal experience of trespassing on the boundaries of prejudice, finding beauty in all life’s phases; in all living bodies.
‘Circuit’ only ran for two nights at Aarhus’ BORA BORA, but will be going on tour around Denmark in the near future. Keep up-to-date with upcoming performances and learn more about other projects by Svalholm on their website.