The word ‘aphasiadisiac’ is a compound of aphasia ‘the inability to express or understand thought in spoke or written form’ and aphrodisiac – ‘to arouse sexual excitement.’
Aphasiadisiac is the work of guest choreographer and former Rambert dancer Ted Stoffer, the final installment in a trilogy, and it focuses on issues surrounding relationships and communication; in particular how we express the complex emotions inspired by love.
Staged in the intimate Lilian Baylis studio at Sadler’s Wells, Aphasiadisiac has one of the most interesting openings of any dance piece I’ve seen in recent years. The stage is strewn with large wooden building blocks with words such as ‘silence’ and ‘disappear’ written on them. While the house lights are still up two dancers, one male and one female, start to build large walls around themselves with the help of three other performers.
Once this wall was as high as their heads, they climbed up inside it and, as the house lights went down, one performer threw blocks at them, as they gradually build their cages higher and higher.
A strange rhythm and sense of danger filled the auditorium, a mood that became hypnotic, with audience members calling out if any blocks were missed. The themes, of isolation and of desperate attempts at communication, were apparent from the outset. It’s just a shame that the rest of the piece could not sustain this mix of emotions. Instead, we were presented with a number of ideas, each as interesting as the last, but with no sense of cohesion, nothing to hold them together.
There is not much actual dancing in this piece and you are left feeling that what is here could have been expanded and developed further. In particular the man who, with his hands and feet on the floor, used his feet to kick his hands along. It was a striking and unusual use of movement, captivating but also quite funny to watch, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the piece was when performer Kristyna Lhotakova, speaking in her native Czech, tried to urgently communicate her feelings and emotions, while two male dancers tried and failed to translate. The sense of desperation and of the debilitating inability to communicate what she felt inside was beautifully conveyed.
Aphasiadisiac is performed to an eclectic aural backdrop, including music performed by the dancers themselves and traditional Czech music. At the back of the stage was a large brick wall which the dancers climbed. At one point Pieterjan Vervondel climbed to the very top, strapped himself into a harness and proceeded to play the drums. Other performers also played instruments, including the accordion and the saxophone.
This was a very interesting piece, which in places was truly inventive; unfortunately all the various elements, fascinating as they are, don’t really knit together. The piece never really dug beneath its surface. It had the potential to be spectacular but was all over very quickly without leaving a particularly strong impression.