At the Heart of Things, by Mayra Stergiou, Cockpit Theatre as part of the Voila Festival 2017, London.
At the Heart of Things, directed by Mayra Stergiou, that took part to the last edition of the Voila Festival at the Cockpit Theatre, is a truly enjoyable, sensitive piece of dance theatre about a girl questioning her own identity and sexuality.
Is there anything such as an easy age in our society? One would expect being young is the best time, still free from responsibilities, work, family and so on. Yet the exploration of our identity can start very early in life and building your own personality, as well as working towards a kind of happiness that is as truthful and complete as possible is the toughest thing you’re ever going to have to do. Of course this also means questioning our sexuality and testing for ourselves how free or otherwise our society is.
The protagonist of At the Heart of Things, Nina (Piedad Albarracin Seiquer), embarks on just such a search. We see her dancing in a club when she meets a girl, Lily (Depi Gorgogianni) who is sexually interested in her. Nina is doubtful, but starts considering Lily’s advances, enjoying the dance in freedom. They dance together with beautiful movements to the sound of a violin graciously played live by Gregory Emfietzis, alternated to the beat of vibrant dance music while on a screen behind them we see images of videos from the 60s, old-fashioned social propaganda warning men of the danger of even hanging out with gay men (women were not considered important enough to be worth warning). Piedad and Depi dance wonderfully well together, with movements that are both poetic and free. The director’s decision to show the contrast between old and repressive social values and a more relaxed contemporary situation is highly effective.
But, alas, at a certain point, a man (Mayra Stergiou) comes into the scene and kills Lily. He is an interestlingly ambiguous puppet character with a rough physicality, entering the scene as smoothly as fear creeps into dream. Is he real, one asks, or is he a projection of Lily’s fears? Or could he be the projection of social notions of what is respectable and what is not? We don’t know. He remains altogether mysterious. Nina is devastated by what has happened but keeps on dancing, desperately trying to rerun the experience and give some kind of sense to it, all the time casting about for some directions and possible consolations that are truthful to herself.
Finally she comes across Oscar Wilde’s words in De Profundis (a letter Wilde wrote to his lover from Reading gaol). Nina takes courage from these words and gains sufficient pride to escape the prison within herself.
It is a great pleasure for all of us to be able to go back to piece of art. As enjoying art means not only appreciating its aesthetics, but gaining access to an intimate process of human research. Art is a precious resource for overcoming human struggles and a powerful medium of personal healing.
In Oscar Wilde’s words: “The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.” Oscar Wilde