Icelander Ármann Einarsson seems to be the most thoroughly lovely man. He also seems to be the most thoroughly ordinary man: slightly diffident, slightly shambling, slightly overweight. But his son Pétur Ármannsson is an actor and director, and his daughter-in-law Brogan Davison is a dancer and choreographer. And so – as we learn from a devastatingly honest series of emails, read out at the start of the show – Einarsson decided that he wanted to do something completely outside his comfort zone, to go on stage and dance.
Luckily for me, you don’t actually need to know anything about contemporary dance to appreciate this show. While there are a couple of dance segments – which, I’m afraid to say, I’m entirely unqualified to comment on – it’s much more the story of a personal journey: of a relationship, and of the struggle to find contentment. The tone’s set very much from the opening video where, stripped of artifice, Einarsson reveals his hopes for the project; to do something “beautiful and honest”, and to be seen (I’m quoting directly here) as more than a “fat clown”.
There’s a lot of similarly brutal candour, but Einarsson is also relentlessly positive; if he’d spent the hour in the armchair at the corner of the stage, just sitting and smiling, I’d still have left with a warming glow in my heart. In due course though, this stereotypically taciturn man opens up, telling (once again happy) stories from his own childhood and a few tales of exploits from the more recent past. Needless to say, Einarsson can speak English much better than I can speak Icelandic, but I did find his lengthier monologues a little hard to follow – perhaps it would make sense to break them up a little, so we have time to appreciate them more.
Contrasting with Einarsson we have his daughter-in-law Davison, a woman literally born in a storm. A Brighton native, Davison came into the world during the Great Storm of 1987, and it seems that she’s living now through equally tempestuous times. In one searing passage, she reads into a microphone a candid litany of inner doubts; clearly a highly able individual, she laments the single B-grade she got in her exams. It provides a piquant context for the gift she’s given Einarsson – lending him her talent as a choreographer and helping him achieve his own inner fulfilment, despite the fact that she’s not yet found a way to be at ease with herself.
It’s interesting, thought-provoking, touching stuff, but to my mind Dance For Me suffers a little from having two messages rolled into one. On the one hand, there’s Einarsson’s inspiring but very straightforward story: the lesson that there’s a true freedom to be found in doing something that makes you feel vulnerable. But there’s also the more delicate, more subtle study of depression relayed by Davison, and it’s here that I found it harder to grasp what the piece was really trying to say. Taken alongside Davison’s forthright revelation of inner struggles, her father-in-law’s apparently-effortless happiness feels strangely uninformative.
If the show’s message is that we should learn to live more like Einarsson, then it first needs to explain how Einarsson learned to live like Einarsson. But still, there’s a warmth and beauty at the heart of Dance For Me – and one clear moral, at least, for all of us. I don’t want to dance, but I do want to do things which scare me. And in their own small way, perhaps Einarsson and Davison will help me find my courage.