Review: “Around Centre Group”‘s “Mourners”

by Liliana Guevara Opinska

Placzki fot Marcin Pawelec

“Mourners”, Around Centre Group, Photo credit: Marcin Pawelec, 2016

“Płaczki”, or in English “Mourners” is a 40 minute-long performance choreographed by Agata Moląg and performed by the dancers from “ Grupa Wokół Centrum” (eng. Around  Centre Group): Agata Moląg, Monika Świeca and Marta Wołowiec. It premiered on March 13th, 2016 as part of the 3,2,1…Dance! Choreographic Competition and Workshops at the Cultural Centre in Nowa Huta, Poland.

In spite of the somber title, “Mourners” is surprisingly light and enjoyable and this in itself is quite an accomplishment. The choreography explores different subjects associated with the act of weeping and crying. Rather then focusing on the emotional state of “mourning” it focuses on the purely physical act of “crying”.

“Crying on command” is one of the main themes throughout the performance. At one point during the show, the dancers position themselves downstage, close to the audience, and standing firmly grounded start weeping one after the other. For approximately the next 10 minutes the audience is treated to an entire range of vocal orchestration, from gentle sobbing to frantic weeping and unrestrained howling. The extremely varied gamma of vocal emissions is quite physically demanding and probably exhausting for the dancers. It also confirms the importance of vocal training for today’s aspiring contemporary dancers. Wołowiec has the longest and most difficult part in the crying repertoire. When it seems like she has exhausted all possibilities of further crying she is encouraged by Moląg to try a little harder. Moląg insists that the crying is not yet convincing and the entire situation becomes at once both pathetic and comic.

Many moments in the piece bring to mind references related to childishness and caprice. A lot of the “crying on command” alludes to familiar behaviours of “empty attention-seeking”, over-dramatization and melodrama. The work can be taken as a commentary or even a satire of these types of behaviour.

In spite of the humour, the piece also provides material for more serious consideration. How can performers emanate honest emotion? Is the emotion during a performance fake or unnatural? What makes for a good performer? Should performers be able to “cry on command”? As one of the dancers explained to me after the show, the work is inspired by “professional mourners”; people, often women, who in certain cultures are hired to “cry professionally” during funerals.

Choreographically, “Mourners” is full of interesting and adventurous choices both in terms of movement vocabulary as well as use of space. A memorable part of the performance involves the dancers using the sidewall of the stage to produce different patterns with their legs while in a handstand position. Among the many good ideas there are occasional misses; some parts seem too long or out of place. The beginning of the piece, with the dancers walking in a large circle, is too long. Similarly, the piece looses momentum in the middle. However this is all compensated towards the end of the piece. My absolute favourite moment is the “second ending” of the piece. After a simulated, anti-climatic end to the performance the dancers come back on stage to dance to the song “It’s My Birthday” by Lesley Gore. The choice of song could not be better; it is exactly in line with the general subject of the piece on “playful crying”. The dancers reproduce parts of the choreography from the original music video. The cheerfulness of the music and the dancing are contagious!

Overall “Mourners” is a piece that explores new concepts and ideas in terms of choreographic and performance vocabulary. It is a piece that explicitly refuses to give in to the misconception that art needs to be “profound and serious”. The work of Moląg and the group “Wokół Centrum” embellishes and advances the Polish contemporary dance scene. If you have not seen the work, I warmly recommend that you don’t miss the next opportunity to see it on April 16!