In a grey, raining world, five dancers flail through space trying to enliven it with their toddler-bright candy-colored clothing. But the attempt is futile. Black and white eventually wins out, and the rain never stops. In Francesca Selva’s On Your Honey Lips, the struggle, and failure, to find meaning in life is explored with athletic-yet-remote choreography set against a video projection backdrop.
Selva’s dancers are technically excellent and convey this difficult material with precision. But the choreography keeps the audience at an emotional distance, and it is difficult to feel included in the piece. The five roles have equal weight and come across as a general multiplication of the human experience as we stumble through our desires and disappointments. The vibrant colors and full-force choreography in the first section contrast with the performers’ indifferent attitude. They poke and push each other’s bodies in a childlike exploration as if half-heartedly asking ‘What does this do?’ Later, when the costumes change to black and white, the dancers at times pair off for a bit of a snog, listlessly making out for a moment and seeming to ignore the rest of the company. But these kisses are passionless and the pairings are fickle. The impression is that of adults stuck in immature behavior, and vainly waiting for “something” to happen. It is a potent contradiction, that of the space-devouring, sometimes mellifluous, sometimes ragged movement, and then hollowness of its delivery.
When expressing “the existential malaise,” as the show’s translated program explains, it is a delicate problem to consider the audience’s attention span. Selva keeps the same structure for most of the nearly hour-long work, with her five dancers almost always in two partnering or unison pairs, and one free-floater on the stage. The result is a kind-of eye fatigue that makes it difficult to stay engaged with the dance. One’s mind wanders; one can even feel bored. But Selva’s interest is “the daily grind veiled by an outward happiness” and in that light it seems the resulting boredom is intentional. The video contribution is another tricky question. The monotonous, over-exposed, slow-motion footage of rain, a pigeon, and upside-down water drops functions as simply a white background for the dancers. The content is not dynamic or discernible enough to do more than set a mood, and the final image of a man standing naked in a bathtub has such a fictional charge it is incongruous to the rest of the video, and to the show as a whole. Overall the projection feels unrelated to the live bodies on stage.
On Your Honey Lips is a complicated, ambitious work, developed on a challenging premise. While some may be turned off by its removed disposition, others may find excitement in its talented performers and subtle structure. Fans of contemporary dance should check it out and see for themselves.