Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains?

What does it mean to be free? Since the days of Plato until post-modernism thinkers and activists have offered competing interpretations of the concept of freedom. In a wonderfully turbulent sequence of lyrical scenes of movement Jasmin Vardimon shows how dance theatre can illuminate further the complexity of one of the most fundamental concepts in politics.

The power of this piece lies in the combination of movement that draws the spectator into the performers’ physicality; mesmerising sets that change with the mood and the energy of the piece, and allow the performers to enact their fantasies in a giant playground; a varied musical score that enables the shift from one definition of the concept of freedom to another; and a delicate presence of a non-narrative that combines all of the above into a coherent whole which does not require us, as spectators, to sign up to one definition of freedom but rather enables us to enjoy the complete spectrum of interpretations.

Freedom commences with a performer standing on what seems like a giant rock covered in green. We see the rock moving and wonder whether freedom comes from within the performer who is moving upon the rock or from the moving rock itself. From there onwards we are presented with a series of fantastic images: a man surfing on the back of the “sea”, one of the other performers; hungry like, howling performers threatening another performer; a dancer on pointe shoes moving across the stage to the sound of “somewhere over the rainbow” and grabbing the wondrous set; a man blowing up balloons, only for those to be popped by a woman elegantly smoking a cigarette. All those scenes involve highly theatrical repeating motifs which entice us to momentarily become one with the scene, only to lose ourselves again in another. The set deserves a special mentioning: a jungle like combination of plastic pipes and green camouflage backdrop which rotates in varying speeds and simultaneously reflects and challenges the action taking place on stage. Restrictions for freedom, Vardimon tells us, are not to be found in the physical constraints of our environments; they come from within, from the way we perceive those constraints and consequently act upon them. The movement language is reflective and fierce, shifting the dancers from throwing themselves forcefully upon the ground to seconds later indulging in a melting like quality, limbs reaching out and showing the seemingly never ending ability of the body to go beyond itself.

Throughout the piece I felt that its real strength lies in Vardimon’s ability to capture the complexity and subtlety of inter-human relationships. That being that has been the beast, scaring us and forcing us to retreat into ourselves, can seconds later become gentle and tender, encouraging us to explore the potential for freedom in our human interactions. Vardimon shows us that freedom – or lack of it – is never a one dimensional relationship between one being and another; throughout the piece she peels off the different layers of the concept to show us that no conception of freedom is ever as simple may first appear. Man may be born free, but his chains are never just what they seem to be.

Dana Mills

12th March 2013