Penelope: Dust in Our Awakened Dreams

The human mind travels through a labyrinth of interconnecting thoughts as it tries to deal with the barrage of problems which the world throws our way. These labyrinthine ways are not merely fascinating but also have occasional overwhelming repercussions and are often suppressed to prevent a state of confusion and unease caused by such obstacles in thought.

We cannot always turn obstacles into stepping stones and neither should we try- André Delicata

We cannot always turn obstacles into stepping stones and neither should we always try. There are some lemons in life which we need to taste in their purest form rather than transform them into lemonade – if only to emerge stronger from the experience.

The Rubberbodies Collective know this, and in collaboration with performer and choreographer Athanasia Kanellopoulou, devised a dance-theatre piece called Penelope: Dust in Our Awakened Dreams and subtitled “a journey of unravelling memories seeking hope”.

The classical story of Penelope patiently waiting for Odysseus to return home while she busily wove away at a shroud and kept her suitors at bay has permeated Mediterranean culture and is a lasting symbol of fidelity in spite of restlessness and dissatisfaction.

Ms Kanellopoulou combined elements of dance with mime, physical theatre and the static tableau to create a visual representation of her innermost desires in a performance which merged grace with pain, loping with lynching, swimming with sinking and transformed arab­esques into feats of contortionism. What was immediately striking about this solo performance was the fact that fluidity and rigidity became equal and interchangeable parts of the same continuum.

Visual artist Matthew Pandolfino, who created the costume, stated in the programme that an understanding of the performer and the concept behind the movement is crucial in his “building a new reality” texture material and colour. The ox-blood red dress was simple and effective as it became enmeshed in the telling of the story by means of its elasticity which extended to the notion of the elasticity of ideas and their value as the performance progressed.

This was also reflected in the green cloak she wore at certain points – this could easily have become a symbol of the shroud too, but the movements used to manipulate it were equally liberating and entrapping. The mask she donned during the performance in Act 5, Light, was part gas mask, part relic from the Nautilus with a slight steampunk twist.

Citing “layers, voices and sound” as his form of constructing music, composer Mario Sammut (cyngna)’s hypnotic music accompanied the central figure’s movement on her journey of self-discovery in five short acts along with a prologue and an epilogue. It was a music which almost trickled into the themes of the piece and supported them, rather than dominating them and this suited the purpose of the performance. Was Ms Kanellopoulou pursuing dreams she’d had but lost? Were they merely haunting memories she was trying to exorcise? Or was it the desire to transform past experience into future possibilities?

Director Jimmy Grima helped channel Ms Kanellopoulou’s original vision and transformed it from a raw set of ideas into a well-packaged piece of visual art which was strong on lighting – with some very effective use of light and shadow, with blackouts and the absence of light being as important as the stage was when bathed in light.

The stage was bare and yet Mr Grima managed to direct Ms Kanellopoulou’s movement in such a way as to not simply fill it but somehow make it seem as though there could have been no other setting for the performance because it worked so well.

The clever use of a cascade of photos from what can be presumed to be Ms Kanellopoulou’s childhood, in Act 3, Secrets, was not only dramatic and took the audience by surprise, but also served to show the character’s feelings towards her memories when she is forced to confront them.

When Ms Kanellopoulou finally emerges from her hour of inner turmoil, as her journey comes to a pause – not an end, but a pause – we see her soothed under a constant trickle of light and falling green scraps. The hope and soothing sense of rest that emanated from this epilogue, Evolution, made it a worthwhile journey.

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