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echoes _ Eszter Herold: Visitation by Orsolya Bálint

Contemporary time travel

DOMBORÚ PROJEKT (Convex Project) is a series of works of art by Eszter Herold, member of the L1 Associaton, about various aspects of conception, expecting and maternity. The project has already travelled a long way; I had the chance to see the first works, a photo exhibition and a dance performance last year on L1danceFest 2013. At that time the main focus was the conception of a child: Why is it important for a woman to have a baby? How does she feel if the conception is not happening? In fact a very emotional and relatable subject for many women. The most recent part of the project, the dance piece – or as the artist put it, a ‘dance icon’ – titled Vizitáció (The Visit) was already inspired by the experience of pregnancy, since Herold is soon going to give birth to her first child. 
The opening scene is a suggestive visual introduction to the subject: we see two globes of light shaping in the darkness of the stage next to each other, the two dancers Eszter Herold and Ágnes Gyulavári occupying one of the globes each. They both lay on the ground in a foetal ball position, with bared breasts and nude coloured underwear, implying the idea of uterus life and also the intimate period of expecting – like being wrapped up in a soft, protective cocoon. 
Since one dancer has a baby bump, we could easily think that in the other globe we see the projection of the foetus (although this doesn’t necessarily imply it is her own baby) slowly starting to move from the curled up position, using her limbs and flexing her spine. The movements are minuscule, evoking the atmosphere of being in a tight space, being surrounded by amniotic fluid. We hear heartbeat sounds – a deeply rooted experience of uterus life – blending into the music composed by Ádám Márton Horváth, and the contrast of darkness and soft light gives a feeling of mysteriousness, like a glimpse into a secret inner world. 

Ági Gyulavári, Eszter Herold photo:
Pregnancy is indeed a very intimate, genuinely personal and transcendent experience, impossible to explain to a person who has never had a baby (although we have all been babies once), and naturally a bit different for all the mothers to be. How could it be displayed on stage then, on any other way than the actual image of a pregnant woman? 
Herold found a reference, the painting Visitation by the Hungarian medieval painter Master MS, and used the fine art topos to share her personal experience. The portrayed biblical visit – as described by Luke (1,39-80) – happened in Judea, when Virgin Mary met Saint Elizabeth, and discovered that she is also pregnant (with John the Baptist), and that proved the veracity of the Annunciation. Exalted by the news, Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she experienced her baby moving in her belly (as if cheering from joy) for the first time. This moment is truly one of (if not) the most exciting and curious experiences of pregnancy. Even if we can turn to science today to test the pregnancy in an early stage, the first movements of the baby are none the less significant and magical, since in this moment the presence of the foetus becomes ‘real’, physically perceptible.
In the next scene, the two dancers are standing with their backs to the audience, in front of a white wall. To the music of Arvo Pärt, their movements start a dialogue, at times being parallel and mirroring each other, in other moments more reflecting on each other, but a wordless communication is visible. Their torsos are almost motionless, only their arms are moving, like a plant striving towards the light with its sprigs, nurtured by Mother Nature. 
Meanwhile, they are both putting on their robes; we see the painting coming alive in front of our eyes as we recognize the dim, brown-yellowish colours, as well as the graceful position of the hands. The act of dressing up already leads to the next scene, in which the dancers occupy diagonal corners of the stage. Each one of them is absorbed in their movement, while they are putting a headdress on and wrapping a shawl on their arms. The dressing ritual is a joyful preparation itself, just like putting on our best dress for a special occasion. When the dancers are both ready, they slowly start walking towards each other. In the moment they meet in the middle of the stage, we see the exact image portrayed on the painting, but they don’t stop here; we see the faces closing in slow motion, and the two women kiss each other on the lips, ‘sealing’ the visit and giving the performance a dramatic ending. What could this symbolic gesture mean? In religious context, the kiss could be a sign of subjection, gratitude, affection – we could go on and on. In medieval times though the kiss became a social gesture, and was considered a sign of refinement, so it could have been a mannerism characteristic for the era the piece is drawing us in.
But what would we understand of the performance if we would have no background information at all, and had never seen the paining of MS Master? Possibly we would recognize the reverent look and the pointing hands of the saints we have already seen on many icons and altar paintings, as well as the robe and the headdress so typical for renaissance art. But even if we have no knowledge of these, we could be delighted by the timeless portrayal of pregnancy, the celebration of the beginning of a new life.
Orsolya Bálint - KÖM

excerpt of their music composed by Ádám Márton Horváth

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the real sensitive, female point of view. I will share your thoughts. Thank you, Orsi.