Birds With Sky Mirror

Looking at the man in the mirror

Feature by Amanda Grimm | 23 Aug 2010

Lemi Ponifasio’s Birds with Skymirrors, although classified as ‘dance’ by the International Festival, is not your typical dance performance. Its movement can’t be described by any type of Western dance, and some of it isn’t dance at all, such as the long section in which the performers sprinkle white dust all over the stage, in a grave, concentrated manner that suggests a sort of ritual.

The performers are undoubtedly highly skilled and versatile. When six men sit cross-legged in a row across the front of the stage, they move their arms as sharply as karate masters, clapping and slapping in exact unison. In contrast, when one man stands alone on the side of the stage, his bare chest and arms undulate with the most beautiful fluidity, resembling a dolphin twisting and turning its powerful, muscular body as it swims through water. And when six men emerge from the dark at the back of the stage, and begin to creep forward, their bodies bent double, the extreme speed and articulation with which they move their foregrounded shoulders creates movement unlike any dance I’ve ever seen, but which is all the more impressive for that reason.

Birds also stands apart from other dance performances because of the emotional content and response it provokes. Ponifasio had climate change and environmental destruction in mind when choreographing, and the image repeatedly projected onto the backdrop, of a bird struggling and dying in what looks like oil, is extremely difficult to watch.

But even without knowing the background, the singing-chanting of the performers, the slow, considered movements and the evocative lighting, sets and music combine to create an almost ceremonial experience in which time is slowed down, and the audience is encouraged to not just watch, removed and objective, but to reflect: a rare activity in the middle of the busy festival. When the lights on stage began to dim, and those in the house began to brighten, easing the audience back into a different world, I felt a surge of emotion, and realised that I had tapped into what’s important in life, if only momentarily.


Birds with Skymirrors@ The Playhouse
18 August, 2:30pm, £8-£28.50, The Playhouse