Tara D’Arquian is a Belgian choreographer based in London, and her work, while often playful at a surface level, has serious imaginative intentions. Bad Faith is the third part of her In Situ trilogy, inspired by Nietzsche’s “three metamorphoses”. To this philosophical guide to self-overcoming, extracted from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, D’Arquian pins the career of a histrionic and self-deluding actor, Nora.
In the first piece of the trilogy, In Situ (2013), set in a disused chapel in south London, we see a young woman frustrated by the attempt to define herself, to leave a mark on the world. In Quests (2016), an existential detective story that saw D’Arquian and a large company of performers taking over Greenwich borough hall, Nora has vanished, celebrated only in a series of conflicting memories, flashbulb impressions and fading vignettes.
In Bad Faith we rejoin the actor (Hannah Ringham) 20 years later in a parallel world. It’s a place between death and life, or perhaps the echoing hall of her own unreliable memories. As Nora muses aloud, sings, and strikes sad, defiant poses, two dancers (D’Arquian and Laura Doehler) move in enigmatic counterpoint. The text, by Jemima Foxtrot, is fragmentary, and lit by a glimmering desperation. “I am,” Nora whispers, quietly but frantically attempting to reassure herself that she still exists. “I am, I am, I am.” She hears other voices. “They loved you,” one murmurs. “You were a wonderful performer... a glowing example of womanhood.” D’Arquian’s choreography, meanwhile, is austere, stripped to the bone. Doehler moves with an almost severe gravity, and D’Arquian with a knowing poise that seems to mock Ringham’s stagey posturing. At one chill moment, they share rippling peals of laughter, but while Ringham’s smile is brave and actorly, D’Arquian’s is as savage as a hyena’s.
If Bad Faith is the leanest work in the In Situ trilogy, it is perhaps the most fully realised. It’s modernist rather than postmodernist in tone, with flashes of Beckett in its tragicomic bleakness. Alberto Ruiz Soler’s score tightens the screw. At times it’s little more than a thudding heartbeat. There’s a clever, disconcerting moment when performers seated among the audience stand and address Nora. “Remember, I will always love you,” one calls out, as the bittersweet strains of a Hammond organ shiver the air. “You were always smiling,” adds another. “I’m wonderful still, aren’t I?” Nora asks.
In the end, D’Arquian permits her protagonist a kind of resolution: the understanding that if she cannot make an indelible mark on creation, she will always be part of it. The final tableau is as resonant as it is beautiful. Doehler and D’Arquian lie upstage and downstage, framing Ringham, their bodies frozen spirals. “We will be a ring of trees together,” the actor tells the audience.
D’Arquian’s work remains surprisingly below the radar. Wednesday’s premiere was no more than half full. But the 27-year-old choreographer is not only an artist of much rigour and seriousness of purpose, she's a fighter. She funded her earlier work through Kickstarter, and as well as writing, directing and dancing in Quests, learned bass guitar so that she could play in the band. We will hear more of her.