Participants' reflections on 20 Sept
White Sounds, Blue Chops
Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea stands in the corner. He stands there immobile for quite a long time, so I have time to observe the space he is performing in. The wall and the floor are off-white, all the lights are on, the brightness is almost glaring, it’s hard to fix my eyes on the dancer. He is in blue clothes, his face is also framed by a version of dark blue color, only his shoes are white.
Then, suddenly he starts to make a strange gasping sound. Every intake of breath is connected to an unarticulated voice, the air resonates with the whole body of the performer, his feet and hands are shaking – the work of the air, the respiration itself can be observed in his whole body. A microscope of breathing. Opening up a breathing organism without cutting its skin, observing a living system during its functioning. He approaches us slowly; first on the floor, then on his knees and on foot. The dynamism of his respiration pushes him centimeter by centimeter. After a while we aren’t sure if it is he who is moving slowly and producing this constant and rhythmic, harsh voice, or if the power of the sound has already taken control of his body and he is just following a strongly physical energy flow. He is extremely controlled, yet at the same time he tries to reach the unconsciousness.
This highly physically challenging part of the performance lasts for 20 minutes. During this time much of the audience seems to feel uncomfortable, and also amazed. The inflexed and rhythmically shaken body of the performer evokes numerous images, mostly about scenes of suffering; from a junkie being under the effect of a drug to a military victim being under some kind of torture. The performer explores this air-and-sound based experiment in a reasoned and attentive way: he sends his voice in different directions using various positions, playing with the material nature of the hall; he even goes under the dance floor carpet.
Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea rarely faces his audience; we see most of his movements from behind. When he shows his face (jumping surprisingly close to the first line of his public) he closes his eyes – he can easily establish contact without using his eyes. Otherwise, the captivating exercise he is doing could be uncomfortable to confront: for who likes to look into the eyes of someone who is gasping for air? Passing around on the very edge of the hall (of the dance floor) he undresses gradually from some part of his costume; with every piece (pullover, shirt) his appearance becomes brighter and brighter, the different layers of the blues leading almost to white.
In the twentieth minute his phone rings – what a simple and ironic end of the physical challenge, of the constant boom of the human voice. He leisurely drinks a bottle of water and begins the second part of the performance: he takes a huge wooden panel on his back. The man in the middle of this white hall, wearing blue clothing becomes an angel with huge, wooden wings – his weightless, airy body, purified by his breathing gets a simple, natural component. The silence, the sudden absence of his voice and the memory of its great resonation takes us to the border of the dizziness, to the border of hallucination. The angel gently turns round and round, making a small breeze with his solid wings – as he recompenses for consuming so much oxygen; giving us some air, protecting us from struggling for breath like he did.
With calculated and precisely executed movements he disposes of the wooden material in the middle of the hall, he puts on protective goggles (is this angel going to fly?) and picks up a huge blue axe (will this angel destroy something, bringing to this hall some kind of apocalypse, the day of reckoning?). Then, he chops the wood – which is not a trouble-free act, the precise placement of the chops needs concentration and continuous adjustment. During this simple but captivating scene the audience has time to establish a certain rapport with the first part of the performance: the experience of the difference and the time we have spent watching the performer offers us the possibility of immersing ourselves in our own interpretation.
Chilean Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea was really natural and direct after his performance, during the open discussion – it seems that he really created this piece by concentrating on the experience of being present on the scene. Going through the creative process, spending time with the material, a simple and powerful line of action remained – the performance is more an experience-based proposal than a conceptual piece. However, the simplicity leads to a really deep and complex structure; the title itself (“Mining”) may refer to the hard, internal work of the performer or to the accident of the miners in Chile in 2010 –the birth year of this piece…
Zéro Balett: The Middle of the Sound
The second evening of the L1danceFest offered three totally different pieces, which cannot be compared. The first piece was in a way very special and unique and stuck out from the others.
As a critic – beginner I always try to be humble, because I do not yet feel confident in this sphere. But in the case of Zéró Balett I must simply forget all my humility. What I saw completely surpassed all expectations.
At first sight it looks like it will be an interesting spectacle. There is a black stage and we hear only a noise, such as when an old woman taps on the floor with a wooden stick. When the stage lights up, we see a girl in a red-black costume with two long red sticks, performing some kind of exercise. Then a second and third girl join in and together they show us what contemporary dance choreography should not look like.
The whole scene is only red and black – red sticks, black stage, black costumes with red strips, which are by the way really tasteless, looking like costumes from an eighties music video. These two colors together make a lot of associations, create meanings, but here they are used only by accident. (The choreograph said in the discussion following the performance that the reason for using these costumes was that they were used also in a first version of the piece. Why they were used in this first version, we do not know.)
The music is mixed in a very unprofessional way: there are sudden cuts, which are evidently made by mistake, and individual music selections share no continuity or connection. The work with lights is perhaps a bit better, except for the blue light in the back, which in this red-black choreography work inappropriately.
The choreography itself is based only on work with the sticks. It crumbles into smaller pieces, between which the dancers mostly just exchange their places on the stage. For me the choreography is more of an exercise than dance. As the choreographer told us later after the discussion, the only task for the dancers was to use the sticks; there was nothing more that could give the whole piece any sense. Moreover the dancers look like amateurs, they cannot control their bodies, they have to concentrate hard to keep command of their movements, and this is reflected in their faces.
In the choreography there are many moments that seem to be symbols of something, but in the next minute these feelings fizzle out. Certain inserts like singing, making noises or the women's bird-like twittering are totally out of context, and do not continue in any way. They seem to be placed there only for “fun“.
I recall when I was four, five years old, I attended a course for children in a Czech sports organisation. It was for small children, so there were only some very easy exercises. Once there was a “performance“ for parents and we also did some exercises with sticks, and the dramaturgy of our show was very similar to the dramaturgy of the Middle of the Sound. But I had an excuse, because I was five years old. I think the dancers from Zéro Balett are a little bit older, and especially the choreographer...
Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larrachea: Mining
The body in the present moment is often the topic and object of human desire. It is also the point of departure for one of the pieces we could see at the L1danceFestival 2012 in Budapest – Mining, created and performed by Chilean artist Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larrachea.
Rodrigo enters the stage and stands still for a while. Then he pushes his body into the process, presented in two performance sections: in the first part the body is related with internal space, and in the second part with external space. In this first section his body has to cope with the strong, continuous, full-capacity uncolored sound that he produces with his own voice. This sound affects his body, which he drags, circling inside the performance space. His slow dynamic of movement, the accumulated energy of his sound and its repetitive rhythm and body sensations shapes the autistic and painful look of the piece. Interrupted by an external sound – the alarm of his mobile phone - he switches from sound into silence. He becomes occupied with the external action of carrying a big plank and cutting it with an axe. This kind of dangerous action demands full concentration.
What is similar about these two contrasting parts is that both of them keep us conscious in the present moment, in the here and now. You just cannot sing and be somewhere else in your mind in the same time. If you perform a dangerous activity you need full concentration as well. During the festival performance, was he in the present with his consciousness, as well as his body? Was the audience? The audience agreed after the performance that it was with him all the time, in the present moment, concentrating on what is happening. I surely was in first the part, but cannot say so for sure for the second part. What happens with the body could be perceived in the first part...
Naoko Tanaka: Die Scheinwerferin
Naoko Tanaka is a young Japanese artist, coming from the field of fine arts, with a specialization in visual arts and performance. Her solo work performed in L1danceFestival may lead us to ask, why is a piece of art, usually categorized as visual, being presented in a dance context? What does Naoko’s visual art have in common with dance? On what basis are they connected? Why is Naoko’s piece of art programmed as dance? What is the point of categorizing different artistic disciplines?
Choosing to unfold Naoko’s work from this point of view, we can touch on questions concerning the concept of dance, but more importantly the motivation behind Naoko’s work, and her choices in expressing and executing her vision.
In order to continue the investigation, we might set up some hypothetical agreements about dance. Let’s use Wikipedia as an example of an academically agreed point of view, and let’s assume that the differentiation from one dictionary to another would only lead us to stylistic differences.
“Dance is a type of art that generally involves movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music, performed in many different cultures and used as a form of expression, social interaction and exercise or presented in a spiritual or performance setting.” (Wikipedia)
What do Naoko’s work and the definition of dance have in common? To get a better understanding, we could take a closer look at the details of the showing.
When the audience enters the theater space, the space that has been designated as the stage is already set up for performance. Two white curtains shape the performing space in such a way, that the stage is much smaller, creating a triangular shape. Being closer to the performer, in a smaller space already creates a more intimate relationship. There is a whole complicated construction in the middle of the stage, organized around and mostly under a little table. There is a little Naoko doll laid on top of the table, and the artist herself is resting her upper body on the table, so we cannot see her face yet. The whole is chaotic at the first glance, consisting mostly of trash, and differently shaped things brought together (a fork, mini train rails, textiles, cup lids, etc.)
Movement without body (about Naoko Tanaka's Die Scheinwerferin)
No-body. Revealing just a word – there is no body itself and it also means impersonal. Lack of body is a lack of human. In a dance festival it seems to be obvious that body is the very first tool to achieve movement. As we could see, there is a space to put some fresh air in such an obvious and predictable reality.
Audience enters the space from the back of the stage and passes the construction made of roots, steal elements and fragments of some objects. All hidden underneath the table on which lays a doll. Space to dance/movement doesn’t exist. It’s clear, that it’s going to be something else. Somehow it must work.
All action which takes place during the performance is leaded by little source of a light in a hand of performer. The view from the light is visible on the white material which forms the back of the stage. We can see a game of shadows being in constant movement. They create a sense of approached space of non-defined, abstract world, where only a parts of known reality can be seen. The view is connected to sound of well known world – birds singing voices of riding train, laugh of children. A shadow movements and sounds installation leads to the world of subjective imagination where some story can be revealed. It also can be just an abstract reality without any narrative line. Movement of light causes extreme rapprochement and distance, but the objects are not the center. The main purpose is movement which very clearly and suggestive can change reality. That is the most interesting aspect. It’s easy to connect playing with shadows with traditional Japanese shadow theater, but here the purpose is different. It’s all about moving space which opens very fresh discussion about movement at all. There is in fact nobody. No-body? The case is – not at all. The presence and body of a performer was necessary and at the end of performance we can see it clearly. It occurs somehow thru mentioned doll on the table.
There are some questions which comes up about dance and movement in general. Do body itself is the best tool to move? Is it still obvious? Where starts the dance? For sure movement is also an element of visual arts in general – whatever it means. This kind of performances can redefine very obvious, dance reality; can verify an expectations of the audience about what the dance performance is and – in this particular example - is it still exist.
Illustating, deformating, echoing. The space in the three performances of the second festival day
Without trying to make a complex (and perhaps useless) comparative study of the three very different performances of the second festival day I would like to focus on the ways they were placed in the space. By that I mean the ways by which they related to the space given, in how they shaped and articulated it.
Red sticks restructuring the space, shadow-light projection and wooden-breath measuring of the space are of course very different means of testing the space parameters. I will try to approach them by creating a text which is also a defined space itself. I will search for the language that would preserve the quality of what I observed.
Zéró Balett: The middle of the sound.
(Ornaments and illustrated space)
Fragments of the red line placed and replaced in the black dark scene are visually attacking. They work with the space in terms of Pythagorean geometry. They define the areas, lines and intersections but on the other hand their re-composition did not have any impact on the way performers were relating to the space. Replacing of the sticks (even though it was a visually expressive element) did not influence at all the structure of the space. For instance there was a moment where the performers used the sticks to form a shape of the dance floor. This border was supported by the lights. But this potentially meaningful gesture did not have any consequences on the movement and attitude of the performers. They did not tend to cross it or question it in whatever sense. After imposing this line they behaved just as before without any attempt to give us a reason why they had actually done it. The sound which can be understood as a dimension of space was always in rather superficial harmony with the movement sequences so the rhythm of the performance became predictable very quickly. The use of the red sticks played merely an ornamental role – it illustrated the space instead of taking it into the play. Thus the red-lined tattooed space remained a matter of a visual effect.
Naoko Tanaka: The shine thrower, a journey inside.
What was this journey going through? Was it a landscape, mind, railway, tunnel, spiral? There was a continual flow of approaching and distancing; time portrayed as the element constantly deforming and recreating the space. Can distance be measured by shadows? Can light become a unit of the density? The space here is a search: not a place for a search, but the search itself. Extension, missing, passing by, loosing, never really getting to the point and if yes then leaving it almost immediately after the recognition. Projection creates a possibility to play with the measures to exaggerate, to investigate so the space achieves the water qualities. What is seen are probably the fragments, the random reflections from the surface that is constantly changing its shape. And there appears a very specific zone between the thing and its extension to the space in the form of shadows. A spectator sees the both layers and still does not stop to wonder what is happening between them. A simplistic causality light – thing – shadow just does not count here. Shadows dwarf the border of the projection walls: they become a part of another plateau. Altogether with the sound which also creates a very uncertain dimension (approaching and distancing, sound layers overlapping, simultaneity with the projection rather than rhythmic synchronicity) a spectator becomes a part of a flow. However the performance is so suggestive that it does not leave much space for oneʾs imagination. Its esthetics of the house for the dolls does not have to fit for everyone so there is a risk that one would get dragged (if not drawn) by its flow.
Rodrigo Sobarzo De Larraechea: Mining
For some time a body is present in the space. There starts a mutual interplay between a body echoing the space by externalizing the very inner sounds and the space allowing these sounds to circulate in some concrete way (related to its acoustics, volume and physical parameters). But not only this. The performer reflects the space in the silence as well. He is present in such a way that it creates space around him, he produces the here and now. Just after his arrival to the stage performer stands up in the left back corner and confronts the audience in the moment of a condensed silence. He breaths and he looks. This creates an initial contact: it is as if the web of various connections in the space was suddenly realized and admitted. Performer launches on it and explores it by his „mining“ (Is title a reference of getting deeper and deeper inside him? Or is this parallel too superficial?) In the form of breathing and sounds he externalizes his inner processes and observes how they react and behave in the space. He plays with the rhythm, color and intensity of the sounds produced – so for those who are really in for it there is a possibility of narration.
Performer is so aware of his presence that he becomes an observer of what he is doing while doing it: For instance he makes a random turn with his head to orientate in the space and to look for impulses probably, he realizes it and repeats the movement four more times but extended to the whole body. It is perhaps this sensitive externalizing that makes the performance so magnetic but there is a risk it will become never-ending. If everything is integral in the performance there appears a question on how to finish it. It is noteworthy that the end of this part of the performance comes by an external, quite radical intervention of an alarm clock. This decision is not without self-irony, it shows that the first minimalistic and very inner part of the performance is a matter of consciously but arbitrarily imposed limits and not of the performerʾs momental state and spontaneous conclusion. It shows his action as a task to fulfill, even though this task has been self-imposed. The second part of the performance is agreeably provocative in this sense. It demolishes the spectators' constructed notions of a delicate minimalistic purity and it comes up with the different means of how to relate to the space. These means are external, simple and openly arbitrary which turns out to be demonstratively playful: a fragment of reproduced music, a large piece of wood worn as a rucksack, an axe. At the same time the performance does not cease from exploring the presence in the space. It is through this material concreteness that performance achieves a certain lightness and distance from itself and the very intense enclosed experience it has just created. This is not disparaging about the first part, there is not a tendency to discredit it. Rather it proves once more that the performer is able to step aside from what he is doing, to point out the limits of his action and comment on it.