Klapstuk '91: The newest ones

BLITZ 22 Oct 1991English

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Contextual note
This text is part of the Portuguese anthology. This text collection contains 100% of the writings of André Lepecki for the magazine BLITZ. Sarma could realize this project by the support of the Portuguese Institute for the Arts.
You can read more about André Lepecki and his poetics as a writer on the following link: http://www.sarma.be/nieuw/critics/lepecki.htm


Editor Sarma: Myriam Van Imschoot
Editor Portugal: Monica Guerreiro
Research in Lisbon: Jeroen Peeters
Coördination: Steven De Belder, Jeroen Peeters, Charlotte Vandevyver, Myriam Van Imschoot
Translator: Clive Thoms
Financial Support: Portuguese Institute for the Arts
Thank you to: André Lepecki for the contribution to this anthology, BLITZ for giving consent to republish the texts on www.sarma.be, Diana Teixeira (typiste)

Twenty-three shows in six different venues, talks by choreographers, more than 100 hours of video-dance at the public’s disposal, an international critics’ seminar: this is the great dance fest in Louvaine, the Klapstuk ‘91 Festival, which looks like it’s here to stay on the international scene.

Bruno Verbergt, the Festival’s director since 1989, decided this time to concentrate on producing new work and presenting pieces by “new” choreographers. With efficient and friendly organizers, the Festival opened with two world premières. On these and more, here goes my report while we still wait for the week when the Portuguese take to the stage…

1. Blok and Steel, Be Long

If the replicants in Blade Runner could dance or choreograph, they would do it like Suzy Blok and Christopher Steel. A coldness which comes from the strict perfection of acrobatic and athletic movement, from perfect muscular bodies, from the basic formal plot of the choreography which clearly presents itself along the lines of a computer program.

But there is also a sense of naivety permeating everything, the naivety of the machine made flesh. The whole piece is a statement about the identity of the dancers-choreographers themselves. They ask “deep” questions: “what do you want?”, “what do you like?”, “what do you hate?” – and get “simple answers” (“a beer”, “love”, etc.). The look is colourful post-neo-punk and the music is golden oldies from the sixties and seventies, with Jimi Hendrix and the Stones. The problem is that thirty minutes is too long for their paltry choreographic resources, when the ultimate aim is to say explicitly that even if Jagger says You can’t always get what you want, you have to try. Even if it kills you. Just like replicants. Only more pathetic.

2. Angelica Oei, Aliud

Some three years ago Angelica Oei presented a piece I found extremely irritating, in which three girls in school dress entertained themselves for hours by showing off their skill in scattering sand on the floor and being sweet and smiling, as was choreographically de rigeur in post-Keersmaeker Netherlands. However, the choreographer seems to have given up on feminine/hysterical stereotypes (which actually constituted a perverse and dubious resurrection of nineteenth century prejudices, which made it an altogether peculiar cultural phenomenon), to concentrate instead on pure movement, in which theatrical elements put in an occasional appearance. As I’ve said before, it’s the way to go, and no-one can completely escape the cultural straitjacket.

But the choreographer has done more than just this. Over the course of one and half hours, Aliud manages to provoke the following reactions in the audience: 1. horrified amazement, 2. irritated horror, 3. hypnotic torpor, 4. hypnotic curiosity, 5. an overwhelming urge to go and get some dinner 6. pity for the dancers.

Indeed (with one exception, no. 4, to which we will return), the extra-choreographic elements save the piece from total disaster: the dancers are terrific and give of their best, the traditional African music (from one end of Africa to the other) is marvellous and the lighting is extremely original and technically close to perfection. With extremely simple effects, Renee Torensam and Reint Baarda have created a very special and successful atmosphere. Exception no. 4 is a very beautiful moment when the dancers form pairs and spin around the whole breadth of the stage to the sound of female vocals which remind me of Reich but have the warmth of African nights. In this, Angelica Oei was very sensitive and intelligent. I failed to understand the reason for the rest of it, which is simply grotesque.

3. Meg Stuart, Disfigure Study

What most fascinates and disturbs the audience in this “study” by Meg Stuart is the perception that the choreographer is laying herself bare. In an almost shameless way, Meg Stuart cruelly exposes her phantoms and obsessions, in a dark environment highlighted by the patches of white light which define the claustrophobic space which surrounds existence: hers and ours. The sensuality of the movement, which is heightened in the absurd violence of the situations created between the dancers, the subtle handling of the psychological nuances which motivate each gesture, each glance, the savage melancholy of Meg Stuart’s duets with the dancers Carlota Lagido (who on the opening night gave one the best performances of her career) and Francisco Camacho, give the choreography a very un-American feel. Somewhere between the abstractionism typical of the other side of the Atlantic and the expressionism which prevails on this side, Meg Stuart has created a piece which in fact comes close to a Portuguese atmosphere.

Fundamental – and fabulous – is the original score by Hahn Rowe (of Bosho and Hugo Largo) which enters into a consistent dialogue with each gesture, each intention, providing a touch of languid paranoia (with the electric violent over a pre-recorded track) or creepy suspense (with the guitar). The well-known choreographer and dancer Randy Warshaw was responsible for the lighting, which sometimes underscored the intentions of the pieces, and at other times perhaps overdid it, disrupting more than it helped. Meg Stuart will be at Acarte in late November. Don’t miss her. She’s a bombshell.

4. John Jasperse, Half Step Drop

Another New Yorker in Louvaine. John Jasperse has been one of Anne De Keersmaeker’s dancers, and Lisbon audiences were able to see him at the Encontros Acarte in 1989: he was one of the fantastic priests in Ottone Ottone. The piece he presented here is a duet with Conor McTeague, with music by the renowned Chris Cochrane. The piece consists basically of a virtuoso exploration of the physical and technical potential of the dancers, who are as good as they come. But in terms of language, I think that Jasperse quickly runs out of ideas, in terms of both movement and choreographic content. The decision to embrace the old theme of antagonistic tension, with the occasional simulation of a kind of combat, counterbalanced by (what else?) the theme of complementariness and solidarity, provided rather thin and uninteresting substance for the excellent movement on stage. I was left with the feeling I’d seen a piece searching for its centre, for its own motivation.

5. Mónica Valenciano, Puntos Suspensivos

It’s hard for me to talk about Puntos Suspensivos. It is so far the most poetic and touching of the pieces presented at Klapstuk. A perfect fusion of theatre and dance, the piece by the Spanish choreographer, Mónica Valenciano, is a lucid and touching journey into the Iberian imagination. The decision to use the language of clowns and children to illustrate the subtle movements in the impregnation of cultural models in our (Iberian) tragedy – religion as oppression, school as oppression, work as oppression, life as oppression, but always pathetic oppression, unctuous and small-minded – this decision, as I was saying, is admirable, as she not once falls into the trap of mawkishness, as so often happens. Formally and aesthetically, this is the complete opposite of Meg Stuart, but the two pieces end up coming close to each other in absolute terms, as they unroll on stage; with Mónica Valenciano, this exercise created a sense of strong emotiveness and beauty. Juana Cordero, the other performer in the piece, who complements the choreographer both physically and psychologically, also gave a brilliant performance. The beautiful melancholy sets, also by Valenciano, stick in the memory, along with the unmistakable quality of her movement. A warm, nostalgic piece, highly ironic and sometimes cruel, which sadly left the Belgian audience cold. There are moves to bring the piece to Portugal. Let’s hope they come off.

6. Steve Krieckhaus, Address and Missouri Pacific

The two short solos by this choreographer/dancer from Philadelphia were another of the pleasant surprises at Klapstuk’91, which has so far maintained a fairly high general standard in the work presented. There seem to be choreographers-dancers for whom dancing is no more than making the most natural use possible of a different language, internalized deep within the body. This means their dancing turns out as a sort of monologue, where we recognize a grammar, the different words used from time to time, the connecting pattern between them, and at the end we are left with the strange feeling of having listened to a very ancient discourse, something we should have understood at a time when bodies still spoke like language does. Krieckhaus is like this when he dances. Somewhere between a paraplegic and a primordial animal, he creates movement and discourse of rare calm and beauty. An appeasing energy. His dancing is like the soundtrack which illustrates Missouri Pacific: sounds lost in nature discreetly (but significantly) wrapped in noise from everyday urban life, but without being so dumb as to contrast the moral worth of one or the other, they are just voices from the world which talk to us. Like his body. Once again, the audience didn’t get it.