Aspects of contemporary dance: The problem of context

BLITZ 24 Dec 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:


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, Diana Teixeira (typiste)

The Sala Polivalente at the Centro de Arte Moderna hosted the 5th Aspects of Contemporary Dance cycle, organized by Acarte.

Let’s be clear about it: the context, clearly, is not everything. But it is a great deal. Principally in the fragmentary universe of contemporary artistic production, where the framing of pieces in a web of references appears to be increasingly essential for those presenting the work. Contemporary dance is no exception to this state of affairs: the increasing tendency for choreographers to break away from major artistic currents associated with schools and techniques, and to take over themselves the creation of these techniques and languages, new ways of thinking about dance and making dance, means that any framework, which reduces in some way the entropy in the mind of the careless spectator, should at least be introduced when different works are presented in a cycle or in a programme, or festival or any other showcase. We know that the new directors of Acarte have opted openly to take the opposite view, in other words, to try to present a bit of everything in order to give the audience an overview of what is going on in Europe (Encontros Acarte) and the world (Aspectos da Dança) in terms of dance. Whilst the intention is praiseworthy, the task, for the reasons explained above, is inglorious and runs the risk of spreading misinformation or, at the least, resulting in an imbalance or, in the worst case, in injustice.

All this à propos of the show which started the series. Because it wasn’t put on in isolation. It was opening a whole cycle of contemporary dance.

1. Les Tubes, Compagnie Na

I think that the main problem with this piece is not actually anything to do with the piece itself, either as an idea or as a virtuoso performance, but rather with the context in which it was presented. Although the question of what is and what isn’t dance today is an increasingly thorny one, given that the increasing promiscuity between the arts is leading to healthily chaotic contamination of ideas and techniques, there is still a minimum of cohesion and identity in each art. Having said this, it is perfectly clear that the performance presented in Lisbon would be much more to the point as part of a series called Aspects of Contemporary Mime. Just because there are no words and the means of expression is the body does not automatically make this a choreographic work.

Returning to the piece itself, what I would like to say is that the most extraordinary and enjoyable thing about this performance is the virtuosity of the performers in the constant game of tubular metamorphosis. I’ll explain. There were no human bodies. Instead, some weird, constantly mutating forms: the tubes. What is fascinating is knowing that these formless forms are animated by someone with a head, trunk, arms and legs, an idea which sometimes seems utterly absurd in view of what’s happening on stage. The illusion is complete, the dramaturgy excellent, the performance superb. But leaving aside technique and the discovery of this formula, it gradually gets less and less interesting. The piece is like a History of the evolution of Tubes (as living beings) and the conflicts engendered through growth. So as well as having to watch the eternal conflicts of love/hate, white/black, masculine/feminine, child/adult (which is harmless in itself, the trouble is the way these themes are dealt with), the tableaux in which these themes are tackled get increasingly repetitive and predictable. In other words, the honesty, virtuosity and innovation displayed in this difficult exercise, combined with the pedagogic nature of the content, formalized explicitly and repetitively, make Les Tubes an excellent choice for children. A mime show.

2. Disfigure Study, Meg Stuart

I said just about everything I have to say about this piece in my series of articles on the Klapstuk Festival. I would merely add that the changes made to the piece, principally to Carlota Lagido’s final solo, with less improvisation, have made it more coherent (although the ending with Francisco Camacho moving away continues to be a let-down after all the rest). There have been other changes, in terms of production. First, the Sala Polivalente at Acarte, very different from the auditorium where the piece was premiered in Louvaine, served the choreography very well, and Randy Warshaw’s lighting design was all the better for the new venue, making it much more effective than in Belgium. The second big change was unfortunately for the worse: the producers decided not to bring the musician Hahn Rowe who normally accompanies the show live, on his guitar and violin. The loss in terms of intention and beauty was too great to justify this penny-pinching attitude. Some things have a price. Especially in Art.

3. Mel, Clara Andermatt

What I find most extraordinary in this new choreography by Clara Andermatt, produced especially for this cycle, is the clear-sighted and raw way in which she goes straight to the core of being a human being: eating or being eaten are the basic options which structure any behaviour: anthropology and psychoanalysis have made this clear for anyone who wants to see. With such a raw vision of ourselves, the precise metaphor for this eternal hunt will obviously be sex. Not as a “sublime moment of sensual tremor of passionate bodies in voluptuous caresses”, but as a cannibalistic ritual where what jumps out at us are the phantoms at play in the carnal contact between two beings. Hence the tables in the set, hence the situations centred around eating: José Jimenes who forces Carlos Gomes to eat, Joana Novaes who devours the body of Carlos Gomes, a number of autophagic movements dealing with the hand (which curiously reminds us of Carlota Lagido’s final solo in Disfigure Study and suggests a startling sense of symbolic universality). If I could make a quotation to exemplify my interpretation, I would choose the duet between José Seabra and Carlos Gomes on top of a table. It’s all there: from the intimacy wrecked by habit, to the phallic and other signs of our Mediterranean imagination. I loved all this and the strength of the dancers. But I also have a number of reservations about the piece. The first has to do with the way the various tableaux are connected. The black-out at the end of the opening scenes in which the dancers all kneel down to a divine cockerel looked a bit rough and ready with the dancers and stage hands hurrying to remove the cockerel and dashing from one side to another; another example which comes to mind is the end of the Seabra/Gomes duet with the rest of the dancers coming on stage and clapping as if to mark an ending (it was already there, why emphasise it?). Another reservation has to do with the stage sets, which are so awful, that not even Daniel Worm D’Assumpção’s lighting managed to redeem. Finally, I think that Clara Andermatt is still casting about in her work, continually finding and losing the thread and ideas, which results in an aesthetic imbalance and in the content being transmitted less effectively. But her approach, by imposing this path, is unique in Portugal. Which is what we want. Or is it?