Encontros Acarte '92: Naked magic and bare stages (Part Two)

BLITZ 15 Sep 1992English

item doc

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)

The lightweight prologue provided by the I.O.U. street performance was not enough of a warm-up for the Encontros. The real opening happened on September 3rd, with May B by Maguy Marin.

1. May B, Compagnie Maguy Marin

The choreography – a New Dance classic, first seen some eleven years ago – is built around a journey back to the central themes and forms of the work of Beckett, gradually inhabiting spaces and characters on the way. It starts on a starkly bare stage, with the dancers dressed in simple and uniform white (they only emerge as individuals through their masks and postures). Maguy Marin constructs atmospheres and movements which suggest primordial sounds and rites, as if in a process of human self-discovery and evolution as an artistic being. As a formal pretext, the atmospheres of Beckett’s most abstract and cruel pieces dominate, such as those of All That Fall and Act without Words I and II, until the dancers shake off the dust, cast off the white and travesty themselves as the characters we most associate with Beckett: tramps, old men, absurd, tragicomic cripples. The dancers are excellent, moving and controlling their voices impressively, and if sometimes the relationship between the music and the movements is slightly simplistic and dull, like in ballet, and whilst the humour sometimes goes over the edge into burlesque, which has little to do with Beckett (or with my taste in these things), which is irritating for the audience, it is still comforting to see the mastery with which the piece is put together, giving us a true picture of Samuel Beckett’s greatness.

2. Ballet no. 5… to dance by the nose, by Neuer Tanz

The performance by the choreographer Wanda Golonka started while the audience was still milling around on the theatre steps: deafening noise from inside the auditorium (reminding me slightly of the start of João Fiadeiro’s O Retrato da memória enquanto peso morto). The audience goes in and the dancers jump up from the auditorium onto the stage and start to execute a series of vigorous and repetitive movements, in silence, at the front of the stage. We are miles away from classical ballet: the bodies are alive – we hear them gasp for breath, we see the sweat stick to their costumes, we smell the sweat, we can sense the exertion, their nakedness is clear to see. The entirely bare stage reinforces the metaphor of exposure. A new section begins: the black box is formed by lifting the linoleum against the three walls, which creates a very specific atmosphere, hot and heavy, like in some of De Beuys’ installations. In this atmosphere, a duet for a man and a woman and two metal bars is performed in a precise working through of the premises of abstract dance – very well danced, a highly intelligent re-examination.

The whole structural logic is one of a succession of small pieces separated by blackouts, each working independently, and with a few elements passed from one to another, to create a sense of linear coherence in the choreography. I should say that I felt it was all excellent and successful until about half way through, when the choreography fell back on some of the tricks of “new dance” (pretending it’s a rehearsal, someone talking meaninglessly, unfortunate theatrical elements), which were unnecessary and irritating, making it more difficult to assess the whole, and making the piece too long – sometimes the fault for this lies with the pressure exerted by producers. If that was the case, I would be curious to see more work by this company based in Düsseldorf.

3. Les Échelles d’Orphée, by Théatre JEL

Théatre JEL is the name of Josef Nadj’s company, and Les Échelles d’Orphée the piece planned for this year’s Encontros. With the transfer to the Teatro D. Maria II, due to technical problems (someone forgot to mention the weight of the sets, and the stage of the Main Auditorium at the Gulbenkian proved too fragile), the audience squeezed into the National Theatre for a single performance, on September 7th.

Nadj has revisited his home town and did this using the genre for memory in the contemporary arts: film and photography (oral memory is done for, written memory condemned, so we are left with the gesture bound by the truth of the lens). The comedy atmosphere shifts from the twenties, evoked complete with a live band to underline some of the scenes (and underline is the right word here, not illustrate, clarify or complement), and the actual suggestion of the first image of the performance in a shadow play on a white screen, all refer us to this suggestion of cinema as the storehouse of memory. The performance progresses disjointedly and rather confusingly, especially at the beginning. With excellent performers, a choreographer/director bursting with ideas and extremely at ease in manipulating theatrical tricks which come close to a stage magic (circus and vaudeville are other references), the piece still seems to be restricted by the rather unclear definition of the scenes and characters. Tickmayer’s uninspired music tends to get in the way, and at times cramped the potential multiple meanings in the action, reducing the discourse to an uninteresting single dimension. (Apparently, according to well-informed sources, the score was composed without much contact with the choreographic process).

Finally, we have to ask whether these problems make this a bad show. Of course they don’t. They remind us how difficult and delicate is the task of constructing a choreographic/theatrical work: Nadj has on his side an almost physical intuition about staging, about stage work, as well as a great and enjoyable facility in working with the expressive possibilities of the body (which in his case would appear to be limitless). I think his steps of Orpheus need a bit more time to breathe if they are to attain the perfection of Canard Pékinois.

4. Tejalem, by Pierre Deloche

An almost unknown, but this piece was commissioned for the Encontros. First performed on the 8th, it’s like this: you take one of the finest and most noble forms of Portuguese song for the male voice – cantar alentejano – and choreograph a piece about the signs of the zodiac (!), danced by three strange ladies, all tarted up with sampled sounds and an overdone lighting design, and let it go on too long, just to be contemporary. This provides an excellent opportunity to observe some things: among them, what classical training means in terms of the psychological structure of the dancers, especially as regards the experience of the body as image (look at how the female dancers got close to the men); or the pitch of cruelty which may be attained through the collage of traditions when done disastrously in flesh and blood (look at the dignity and strength of the men, as they heroically and honourably resist the acoustic, visual and kinetic horrors which the choreographers constructs around them). There was a whiff of death about this: the death of a still cohesive world in the face of ghostly superficiality, the empty and aseptic superficiality of fin-de-siècle fragmentation. The choreographer failed to realize any other this. And the production – specially commissioned for these Encontros – was worse than an act of cultural criminality.

5. Y quedaré/ Delante de Los Muros Inmensos/ Esperando Que por Fin Venga/ Alguiem a Buscarme.../ a Kaspar, by Danat Danza

The production had everything it needed to be perfect: careful choreography, beautifully designed costumes by António Belart, excellent lighting design by Evaristo Valera. The dancers have good technique. The original score by Juanjo Ezquera is also not bad. Theme? Kaspar Hauser, a sort of eighteenth century Bavarian wolf-boy. And this just shows how everything is simply a waste of time without the essential factor: the idea for the performance. This is an innocuous choreography, directly plagiarising pieces by Karine Saporta, in terms of scenography, and inspired by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, in the little twirls the female dancers execute in the air. A performance lost in the depths, in the two-dimensional nature of the images, in the bodies which are animated but lifeless, with a steady supply of modern clichés (speaking, reading, smiling, not making any sense), which after almost a century of performance art really needs to be treated more intelligently and with greater reflection. There is colour, lights, tunes, a fat lady, sets which open and close and spin around, nice looking men and women. Pangloss would love it. The audience cheered. Maybe it’s me that’s wrong.