The Selkie

Being part of a dance show this year, I had the pleasure of witnessing several other dance shows in preview. So this is one that I saw some snippets of a few weeks back: and my thought was, “Huh. That looks cool. How the hell are they going to tell the whole story without any words?”

Well, they do it — they successfully communicate the action without narration or dialogue, and that alone is a worthy achievement.

I’m a mythology geek, so the fact that I know the story well certainly helped — it’s not hugely complex, and I would imagine that the outlines are familiar, in that it’s a typical love story between a mortal and a magical being. (I will mention that I completely lost the thread, about twenty minutes in, and I took me another five to get caught up again — with the caveat that my viewing companion tells me that I’m a complete idiot for not having been able to follow the action.)

There’s a few points that I raised my eyebrows at: knowing this kind of story well, and loving it well (in other words, being a big ol’ snob), means that I have some points of contention. There’s an element of kidnapping, rape, and slavery to the story that was barely glanced at; a selkie is Not Like Us, and she seemed to adapt to mortal existence with a shrug and a skip. I also question the use of the female vocalist: not that there was anything wrong with her performance (on the contrary, I thought she was extraordinary), but in a story that was communicated almost entirely without words, for someone to be speaking so literally was jarring for me. (There’s also a degree to which I’m not in the audience for this: when, towards the end, she rocked a performance of “Auld Lang Syne”, a not-insignificant portion of the audience rose to their feet and sang along. This clearly carries some emotional resonance for them that I do not share.)

Regardless: this is an incredibly ambitious production, taking a style of dance that seems (at least superficially) to be somewhat limited, and demonstrating incredible versatility with it; not only that, but to incorporate a full cast of such dancers and a live orchestra(!) — the intellect that could not only conceive of this vast number of elements, but bring them together into something resembling coherence, certainly deserves to be commended.

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