A woman dancing in a red unitard decorated in pompons. She is on her back, with her legs bent and her pelvis arching up.
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Strangely compelling

Fringe World review: Sophia Natale, Flesh and Bone ·
Paper Mountain, 24 January ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Arriving at Paper Mountain to see local independent dance artist Sophia Natale’s Flesh and Bone, we are  handed a piece of paper. It’s not a program, but a letter from Natale to her audience. In it, she confesses that the description of her work contained in the Fringe program was written “on a whim, the night before the Fringe event applications closed … it does not reflect what my show is truly about.”

It’s an endearing confession. It’s also a common issue for independent artists – that one often has to describe a work, before it’s been made – but I’ve not come across any who decided to ‘fess up at showtime until now.

That honesty sets the tone for the work that follows, a structured improvisation in which, says Natale, she aims “to embody a being that represents communication in its purest form; emotion.”

The performance itself takes place in Paper Mountain’s gallery, a long but narrow room. The audience sits on cushions around its edges, so that the performance space is enclosed by viewers. Natale slips into this enclosure through a gap between bodies, her own body folded in half at the hips. Panther-like, she makes her way around the space on all fours, lithe and long, taking little sniffs of air, as though searching for a scent.

Sometimes she sniffs at audience members, leaning in close, as if to rest her head on their shoulders. Other times she looks at us nervously, as though preparing for flight.

Sporadically she breaks into phrases of movement. Now she arches, flips and curls snail-style. Now she creates a loop between hand and foot through which she threads her other limbs, with an elasticity that comes from years of dance training, but in this context brings to mind something inhuman, a snake perhaps?

I could watch her move like this for the full 60-minute duration, but projected footage, first of rocket launches, then of a horse giving birth, break the spell. Almost against my will, I find myself mesmerised by the explosive and sometimes catastrophic launches, and then the struggle of mare and foal. Natale’s creature is visibly distressed by these events but it’s hard to watch both dancer and video at the same time.

The sections involving projection feel disjointed – the rough segues, intentional or otherwise, add to this sense of discord. It appears that Natale is investigating the relationship between humans, technology and nature… but the parameters seem too broad.

Nonetheless, there is something strangely compelling about the “being” that Natale creates. As she says in her letter, she sees herself as being in the “infantile stages of… exploration”, and this performance has the quality of a work-in-progress rather than a complete work.

But it’s not often we’re afforded the opportunity to see work in its early stages of development… and when that work is performed by a dancer as physically articulate as Natale?

It’s a joy to be allowed to watch.

Pictured top: Sophia Natale in ‘Flesh and Bone’.

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