Black shapes twist and turn languidly in the water. Reflections ripple out. Now a foot, now a hand shows; a figure faces down into the water. The refraction of light causes strange foreshortenings of limbs, odd bulges break from the surface as air moves around a wetsuit. A twiggy chorus of hands lifts, turning slightly, then shifts apart again. Figures sway horizontally, pushed and pulled by the heavy liquid mass around them. Accompanied by a minimalist score of growing intensity, this is mesmeric watching.

Pond, a piece by Helsinki-based integrated dance company Kaaos Dance, takes place in the spa area of a hotel some 20-odd kilometres outside of the city. We audience members first encounter each other on a coach outside Madhouse theatre, which is hosting the event. During the journey through a bleak January afternoon landscape of dirty snow and black trees, we are instructed to turn off our smart phones and invited to relax into a ‘retreat’, an experience aiming taking us out of the real world for a short while.

On arrival at the hotel, a great 1960s concrete block sitting squat in the middle of the forest, we are taken downstairs. The pool is surrounded on two sides by wall to ceiling windows, which look out onto a small, icy lake and the trees beyond. The day is misty but the snow reflects coldly onto the surface of the water. One black figure is floating as we arrive, and we sink into the pace of this slow and otherworldly life.

Five further women slip, one by one, into the pool. There are different kinds of bodies, with different movements, but once they are in the water our usual points of reference are taken away. Body movement quality changes with the viscous resistance of water; the parameters of the human figure change as gravity becomes less important. The bodies of the dancers quickly become abstracted for the viewer, lulled by the gentle noises of water rippling and the meditative electronic score. Figures float individually or knock gently into one another, sometimes in a mass of turning blackness, sometimes in small solos or duets.

Water is “the partner that has no form, a different space than air I’m a different me inside liquid” (Georgie Goater, one of the dancers, quoted in the programme). The piece is an intriguing exploration of the movement of different bodies in water, and how bodies become different, alien, to the viewer and the owner of the body. The performers’ programme notes also often reference the opposing characteristics of water, as beautiful life-giver, and the taker of life.

The company refers to this part of the afternoon as ‘floating figures performance’ and it does have more of a feeling of an art installation than a performance. We are permitted to lose our gaze in this artwork but I’m not sure whether the dancers are performing to us, or mostly exploring their own interaction with and within water.

After the performance comes to an end (although it is not an obvious end), the audience is invited to stay for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sauna and pools, and even (in inimitable Finnish style) to swim in the ice hole just outside. I relax in the heat of the sauna, with images of those turning bodies still on my inner eye. In the pool, some of the performers have remained to ‘float’ us – supporting our bodies while we relax into the hold of the water. I close my eyes and try to visualise the picture of my body suspended in the water, but actually it becomes much more of a kinaesthetic experience, unusual for my visual brain. Unusual too for a performing dancer, concerned often with the shape and look of things, but it’s an intriguing way for me as an audience member to make sense, with different senses, of what I have just seen, literally immersing myself in the world of the performers.

As we board the coach and re-enter the busy and darkening roads of Helsinki city, I reflect on the ‘retreat’ that we were offered this afternoon. It wasn’t a choreographic display that blew me away, but it was an experience that engulfed me both literally and metaphorically. And as an outing to the theatre goes, what more could I ask for?

Miranda Laurence

6th February 2017