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The Vacuum Issue 11 spacer Issue 11
more than just a jelly baby...
Directed and Choreographed by Sandra Harnisch-Lacey
Performance by Sandra Harnisch-Lacey and Anne Gilpin
with original music by Florida
Old Museum Arts Centre
October 23rd 2003

by Eugene MacNamee
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More than just a dance this is a multi-media meditation on the nature of freedom, based around the narrative thread of two East Germans escaping across the border fence to the West. Set in a border zone familiar to the director and choreographer, Sandra Harding, it uses the strength of a good story backed up by authentic local 'colour' - video projections of farmers at work, for example - to draw the audience into the subtleties at play on the edges of the story. The question left hanging in the absorbing atmosphere created by the interplay of movement, music, set design, video projection, spoken word and song, is the degree to which you can ever escape the basic chains into which we are all born; the limitations of consciousness, the movement of time. The movement sequences, abstracting the psychology of the protagonists, are as much an investigation of the intimate geometries of imaginative restriction as they are of the physical control of external power.
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The video projections of East German border farms, border guards, girls in their summer dresses, together with the directed and dim lighting and evocative original music, create a pervasive atmosphere of nostalgia. There is a sense of the delicious pain of feeling life, even the hardships of life, slipping away, a kind of nostalgia for the present, a half-knowing that the grass on the other side of the fence won't be quite as green as it seems from this side. Perhaps it is hardships and the thrill of risk that animate life most fully, and perhaps it is freedom that binds. The simple set design, dominated by a low wall constructed on children's building blocks, evokes the passage of time for both the protagonists and their society, and questions the reality of a corresponding growth in maturity. Are all border fences the work of cruel or broken children who are too scared to do anything else? Is a wall just the simplest thing to build?
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This is a beautiful and intelligent work which carries itself with an assurance that the various assembled elements are strong enough and integrated enough to deeply engage an audience. The thematic resonances most strong in Belfast are those of borders, of the confusions of freedom, the difficulties of re-imagining, the shock of disquieting reality after the rapturous dream of pure freedoms. And how refreshing to be reminded that our walls are not the only ones, and perhaps not even the most important ones.
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The Old Museum Arts Centre consistently puts on the most varied and interesting programme of new and touring theatrical work in Belfast, and is an excellent space for small scale dance performance. This piece, after Belfast, goes on to tour throughout Europe and the OMAC deserves a lot of credit for recognising and programming work of international merit.
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