Last Updated on March 12, 2022
Bombyx Mori opens Royal Opera House’s Dance Reflections Festival
Ola Maciejewska’s Bombyx Mori is part of the Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival developed in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House and Tate Modern.
Over a period of nearly three weeks, this first annual festival will feature a panoramic view of dance from the 1970s to the present day with a total of seventeen works staged, complemented with artist forums and dance film screenings. The event also offers an opportunity to revisit the topic of transmission, and discover or rediscover seminal works in the contemporary repertoire.
These include performances by Lucinda Childs, as passed down to her niece Ruth Childs, as well as Dance, a major work by the American choreographer, dazzlingly danced by the Lyon Opera Ballet. Set and Reset by Trisha Brown, performed by two major British dance troupes: Rambert and Candoco Dance Company were created during the 1970s and 1980s, and contributed immensely to shaping the history of contemporary dance.
Transmission is a central topic for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who, having danced Fase ever since its creation in 1982, has entrusted the performance of the piece to two dancers from her troupe. By contrast, the history of dance is illustrated by the work of Polish choreographer Ola Maciejewska, who is presenting two works resulting from her research into Loïe Fuller’s Serpentine Dance.
Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival is a showcase for sharing the legacy of dance and contemporary creation to the broadest possible audience. The first work staged at the Royal Opera House was Ola Maciejewska’s Bombyx Mori and we had the privilege to come along to see it.
Bombyx Mori is Ola Maciejewska’s reimagination of Loïe Fuller’s Serpentine Dances, which enthralled audiences in the 19th century. Fuller was a force of innovation in theatre and dance as she mimicked the ebb and flow of water and fire with the help of long reams of silk attached to bamboo poles. She was the first person to use electric lights on stage and to explore movement outside the human body.
Building on the dance construction pioneered by Fuller, Maciejewska’s modern take on the choreography draws on another creature, the silkworm, the Bombyx Mori. Ola Maciejewska made her choreographic debut in 2011 with Loie Fuller: Research, a solo performance. Bombyx Mori was a 2015 adaptation of this debut piece, made for three dancers.
The 60-minute piece performed at the Linbury Theatre started with the dancers coming on stage one by one carrying their black silk with them and carefully unfolding and folding the silk on the stage. The movements were not accompanied by music, an artistic choice revealed by Maciejewska to mimic the silent nature of films back in the day. This meticulous folding of the silk fabric carried on for nine minutes, but it did feel a lot longer than that to me as if I was witnessing a ritual. The dancers then wore the silk fabric in a choir gown-like fashion and made various movements around the stage to a cacophony of sounds that can’t quite be described as music, but seem more like alien or sci-fi sound effects which are played to signify the presence of a supernatural being.
The stage was dotted with very sensitive microphones to amplify any sound made in the room. Maciejewska revealed this to be the elimination of the fourth wall, allowing a fluid interaction between the dancers and the audience.
At around the twenty-minute mark, the dancers start to create the iconic shapes that are characteristic of Serpentine Dances. The various forms and figures depicted on stage are very mesmerising, and the dancers seem to disappear behind the silk. The movements are very physical and energetic though, and I couldn’t help thinking it would make a very good arm workout.
Maciejewska reveals that she intended the piece to touch on themes of ‘exhaustion’ and ‘endurance’, and this appears in the piece on various levels. Not only did the choreography look exhausting, but a certain level of concentration and endurance was required from the audience when the lights were dimmed so low for an extended period of time (it felt like 20 minutes) that the figures on stage almost appeared like shadows. On a personal level, I struggled to keep focus when lights are dimmed that low. The figures and shapes created in the dark were also a little bit trancelike, so it would have been easy to fall into a dream-like state. However, there were some shapes created by the figures that looked really impressive as it required perfectly timed coordination, resulting in various animated visual imagery.
The lights soon went up again to full strength and we saw each dancer powerfully wielding their silk fabric into various mesmerising forms in perfect synchrony. At this point, I could almost feel the etherealness of the performance, and as a Harry Potter fan, the first association that came to mind is how a ‘dementor’ can be portrayed in dance form. This struggle is probably a reflection of the enduring brain to find a narrative even where there isn’t one.
The piece was brilliantly executed to mimic the pioneering form of choreography that Loïe Fuller graced the world with. This is impressive considering Maciejewska only had Youtube videos to go on. The themes of ‘exhaustion’ and ‘endurance’ are apparent throughout. After the performance, there was a Q&A session with Ola Maciejewska and Serge Laurent, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Dance and Cultural Program Manager where the audience was invited to put questions forward. Questions from the audience included the purpose of the opening preparatory elements, what Maciejewska wanted to achieve by staging a significant portion of the piece in darkness and the addition of extra-sensitive microphones which magnified every sound made by the audience. One person shared that she was personally annoyed at the bits where it was dark because she wanted to see the folds of the fabric as they moved.
For me, while I loved the replications of Fuller’s mesmerising forms and figures, I thought that the piece was slightly too long at 60 minutes. With the theme of ‘exhaustion’ or ‘endurance’, I personally struggled a little with the length of the opening preparatory bit and the fact that a significant portion of the performance was in the dark. However, as a lesson on dance history, Bombyx Mori ticks all the boxes.
The first work in the festival, other performances includes Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Face, which premiered in 1982, set to music by Steve Reich. The work comprises of four repetitive compositions by Reich with both music and dance exploring ‘phase shifting’ resulting in an ingenious play on changing forms and patterns.
Save the Last Dance for Me by Alessandro Sciarroni is presented in the Clore Studio. This work is based on a Bolognese dance known as Polka Chinata, a courtship dance dating back to the early 20th Century. Originally performed by two men and physically demanding it involves dancers whirling around in a crouching position, facing each other with arms interlocked.
In addition to these performances the Festival and Centre National de la Cance – CN D (Paris) presents a selection of films in the Linbury looking back on the modern history of dance, these films will also be available on the Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels and CN D websites.
Until 23 March 2022
Royal Opera House
Bombyx Mori, Ola Maciejewska
11, 12 March 7.45pm, Linbury Theatre
Loïe Fuller: Research
13 March, 2pm and 5pm
Fase, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
16, 17 March at 7.45pm, Linbury Theatre
Calico Mingling, Katema, Reclining Rondo, Particular Reel – Ruth Childs and Lucinda Childs
18 March at 1pm and 6pm, Paul Hamlyn Hall
Post-show talk 2.15pm
The Collection, Alessandro Sciarroni
19 March 7.45pm, 20 March 4.30pm, Linbury Theatre
Alessandro Sciarroni workshop
20 March 12pm, Clore Studio
20 March 3.30pm Save the Last Dance for Me, Clore Studio
Film screenings in The Linbury Theatre
14 March 6pm – Beach Birds for Camera
Directed by Elliot Caplan, choreography by Mere Cunningham
14 March 7.45pm – Rosas Danst Rosas.
Directed by Thierry De May, choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
23 March 6pm – If It Were Love.
Directed by Patric China, choreography by Gisèle Vienne
23 March 8.15pm – D’après Une Histoire Vraie
Choreography by Christian