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By Half. Half a Provocation

Malin Elgán Med till hälften - En halv provokation på MDT

MDT January 27 - 28, 2024

Med till hälften - En halv provokation på MDT, MDT, 2024, Stockholm. Photo: Ulf Lundin. Courtesy of Malin Elgán

Malin Elgán's Med till hälften - en halv provocation på MDT has me wondering, for this review I had already announced an intent to write, whether Elgan’s hybrid-piece really challenges any notions of contemporary dance I might hold or merely perpetuates them, or both. It doubles as production site for a multi-chapter film and performance stage before an audience. With a figment of one’s imagination, sparked off by a few nondescript objects, the minimalist set (supported primarily with two sets of stage lights) brings to mind a group of ”wholesome” Von Trapp-esque bodies lounging on an invisible grass lawn. There’s something inherently von Trier and Dogville-like about the disposition, minus inexisting textual floor delineation dictating such perception. There’s no hill, boarding school or ecclesiastic fixture like a church, but somehow I cannot disconnect from such imaginary allusions. Sporting stoic faces, the six performers begin the course of action by joining in the middle of the floor, rolling their bodies across the floor, elongated, like wooden logs on a conveyor belt. This gesture will from here be repeated to "perpetuity".

I've been noticing productions seen recently at MDT leaning on such tendency when it comes to the beginning; Marina Abramović-style; Art must be beautiful… Artist must be beautiful…Dance must test your patience, dance must test your patience. It's as though the rationale at hand is to wear down any expectation entered through the door with, to cleanslate the audience, and then build the anticipation back up again, and reward with ultimate payoff those who can show "foreboreance" and suspend any puff of nuisance earlier. It's an interesting way to build, but one that feels less fertile if coming across on the more formulaic side of things. Eteheral 90's Enya-type sounds frame the beginning, deliberately overstated, and later as the music sees a metamorphosis, the intended humour gets more evident. The rolling logs-situation makes me think of my few months practising Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and how the classes would often start with all the guys forced to do somersaults over and over, and there then being something very inherently humbling about having to do it. Reeking of submission to an order greater than you. If some contemporary dance could be analogized with karate; graceful, aerial, with outlined contact, then Elgán's beginning has BJJ and full-on contact written all over it.

Her performers are subjected to the same mechanism as we were in the BJJ studio; a back-to-basics push down to the floor, "re-accustoming" them to what has essentially always been their sparring partner in dance; the ground. The more I think of it, the more I'm appreciating it as an element. The well-oiled animation of the rolling bodies inevitably at some point disrupts with the performers crashing into each other and piling up on top of each other. From there, solo choreography ensues that sometimes fluidly moves into moments of synchronicity. It's not immediate, but the production really does grow on you. It's very elegant and rather spellbinding as it comes to an end. I find myself not being able to shake it off later at night, or this morning, and keep going back to snippets recorded last night. And that's not for the sake of this text, it was already written on my seat at the venue (87 % done), but because my eyes are still stuck in Elgán's hands. For someone whose digestion system sees through an abundance of art on daily basis, that's not saying little. I can fairly say I love it more today than I did last night.

Med till hälften - En halv provokation på MDT, MDT, 2024, Stockholm. Photo: Ulf Lundin. Courtesy of Malin Elgán

A note is due about the flashes and springs of memories of subtle and light-deconstructivist 90's androgynous cuts in fashion. With a little Helmut Lang, a little Todd Oldham, some Yamamoto and today’s Thom Browne happening for me, the costume design certainly needs a mention. For sure, By Half. Half a Provocation looks fashionable, but not in that dull, blatantly zeigeisty technocore Balenciaga-way of Anne Imhof (our poster person in international contemporary art of MDT's trade). I make a note to survey who is behind the costumes, and only this morning gathering the credits, realize it's actually two grads of Konstfack, both of whose work in textile art I know; Hanna Westerling and Sanne Lovén Rolén. Both are exhibiting as artists in the upcoming Vårsalongen 2024 that I'm co-curating with Liljevalchs director Joanna Sandell. Kudos to them.

Perhaps timely here to shoehorn in that Malin Elgán has a very impressive résumé, one that will duly resonate also with a curator and art writer like myself. Not surprised in the least about the precise command of what talents to involve in her productions. I'm struck by another jolt of yesteryear and my youth years, surveying the music department and seeing Swedish genius musician/producer Jari Haapalainen listed.  When a rendition or sample overlap of Sade’s The Sweetest Taboo occurs towards the end of show, I can’t help to wonder what the taboos here were and have been. I realize there's something interesting about the several pauses that make part of Elgán's structure and that certainly are unorthodox. Seeing the performers doing their chitty-chatter with their own friends in the audience next to you during the scheduled hiatuses is something that pleasantly fucks with that bubble that stage and performance art is designed by default to balm you into, and keep you inside. Even a curtain fall at intermission at the theatre/opera will retain the separation but there's an intimacy here that's part of the ethos of this work, for me, whether intentional or not.

There’s possibly not a single super novel and ground-breaking move in all of the two hours' running time, but even getting you thinking along the lines of the very molecular disposition of contemporary dance as a phenomenon on a Sunday night is already three-quarters of a provocation, if not a whole, twirling already far passed Elgan’s tasteful titular proposition.

Ashik Zaman


Choreography: Malin Elgán

Dancers: Anton Borgström, Lisa Schåman, Sigrid Sjöholm, Miranda Wallmon, Ella Östlund and Pelle Andersson

Cinematography: Lars Siltberg

Sound: Jari Haapalainen, Daniel Söderberg

Lights: Tobias Hagström-Ståhl

Costume Design: Hanna Westerling, Sanne Lovén Rolén

Communications: Nathaly Salas

With support from: The Swedish Arts Council

Malin Elgán extends thanks to; KSB, Ställbergs gruva, Hägerstensåsens Medborgarhus and Ccap.


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