THE famous Findhorn Foundation defines itself as a place for “transformative learning”. It also seeks to encourage artistic creativity.

The offices of Dance North, the organisation for the promotion of dance in Moray and the Highlands, are on the Findhorn campus near Kinloss. In addition to its work in developing dancers of all ages, the organisation also hosts an annual, one-day dance festival titled Rise.

Rise 2022 – presented last weekend – began with an intriguing, five-hour long durational piece titled THREADED FINE (below). Created by veteran choreographer Rosemary Lee, the work – as performed at Findhorn – was comprised of 24 consecutive, solo performances of the same short choreography.

This might sound potentially dull; until one learns that the performers range between nine years old and over 70. The show – which, due to high winds, was performed in the Universal Hall at Findhorn, rather than outdoors, as originally planned – begins with the youngest performer and progresses up the age range, dancer by dancer.

The National:

The original music, which is the same for each dance, is composed by Isaac Lee-Kronick and performed by musician and singer Jamie McCarthy (who alternates between live performance and recorded-playback of segments of the song). Playing on a squeeze box, McCarthy sings a song – “I see atoms threaded fine … I see photons folded into a line” – that seems very much at home at Findhorn, where the collision of particle physics and human self-exploration falls well within the bounds of “transformative learning”.

This said, I must confess to finding McCarthy’s style – which is half-sung, half-spoken – to be an acquired taste. One admired his stamina – performing, as he did, for the full five hours – but I can’t say I found it an easy or pleasant listen.

The choreography itself – which is performed within a circle created by a length of thick rope placed on the floor – also seems to be an appropriate combination of the self-reflective human with the wider universe. It is supple and expressive enough to be open to 24 distinct interpretations and bodies.

The movement seems to imply, in the first instance, something drawing into the dancer (perhaps the energy of the world around them). This is followed by a casting out, a centring of oneself, a coming to a point of rest, and, finally, to regeneration as the dancer gets to their feet and conducts a ritual that sets the next dancer on their way.

As with any such durational piece, one is invited to come and go as one pleases. Over the course of the five hours, I watched a majority of the performers. The variation within the repetition of the choreography made for an interesting, sometimes almost hypnotic experience.

The quality of some of the younger dancers – in terms of the levels of grace, dedication and concentration – was genuinely extraordinary. Naturally, with such young performers, the audience wanted to reward the child dancers with applause at the end of each performance. This was to the obvious consternation of choreographer Lee, who remonstrated with people, mouthing “don’t clap”. I assume she feels that the work is continuous and that applause breaks the piece’s rhythm.

However, I couldn’t help but feel she was being a little too precious about her work. For audiences to want to applaud young performers is entirely natural.

Sandwiched between the two live dance performers, Rise screened a series of short films commemorating the life and work of the late Simon Fildes, a filmmaker who had close links with Dance North. These included his recently released last film Do You Mind Can I Ask What Happened (To Your Legs)?

The other live performance piece, LOStheULTRAMAR, is a remarkable, communal procession created by the Mexican company Foco alAire. Seven performers (four women, three men) are dressed in black, save for one man whose jacket is brightly coloured and floral.

All seven wear the same black, open-toed sandals and the same kind of large, silver headgear, inside the back of which are eerily expressive papier-mache human faces. As understated Mexican carnival music plays on a wheeled speaker, the performers proceed, all the time engaging in a restricted half-dance, half-shuffle.

As one would expect of a piece inspired by Mexican carnival we find that, in the midst of life, we are in death. Indeed, we are still in the midst of the Covid pandemic, and the piece feels like both a mourning of loss and a celebration of survival.

In the final section of the show, the performers begin dancing with members of the audience. They then create a large human chain which, ultimately, regulates itself, as our Mexican hosts have, quietly and unobtrusively disappeared.

By turns emotionally affecting and life-affirming, LOStheULTRAMAR is a piece worthy of closing any dance festival.