Ideally suited to a festival like Manipulate, Sabine Molenaar‘s That’s It is a triptych of grotesque sketches of human puppetry. Seemingly moved by forces beyond herself, the Dutch-born performer’s contorted frame is drawn and thrown around the stage, creating a bewitching dance piece that is disconcerting and sometimes purely freaky.
With a bass hum deadening the air, the lights swell up on half a human – a torso with feet, propped against a table. The torso’s toes ripple, mimicking the branches of the gold bonsai tree behind it, and other limbs emerge. Hands begin to grope for a dress to clothe itself, the body wobbles to its feet with the uncertainty of a newborn foal. Movements appear awkward and contradictory, like a mannequin whose limbs have been replaced the wrong way round, and often, as when drawn magnetically back to the table, seem not to be Molenaar’s own.
Deep animalistic groans signal a transition to a second sequence. Molenaar slips into a floor length ballgown, and aided by powder on the floor, floats ghost-like across the stage, a horror film orphan swooping and looping to a soundtrack of steam trains and orchestral bursts. A third sequence is backed by the strains of a haunting opera. In red skirt and wig, Molenaar is sensual and provocative. With wig removed, she deforms her body, a crooked and arthritic figure hunching round the stage, lost and searching.
Each of the three segments has a neatly defined style and mood, with humour punctuating the general sense of claustrophobia and adding spice to the mix. The panoply of contortions draws the eye constantly, and the backing track has presence. Molenaar takes her bow looking drained and uncertain of herself, but it has been a sure-footed and characterful performance for this UK premiere.