On the solo ECB by Carlos Pez González 1 Apr 2002English

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Contextual note
A version of this text was published in Dutch in Etcetera in april 2002. The translation was made by Julie Bryden with the support of wp Zimmer and first published on its website.

In 2000, the Spanish dancer and choreographer Carlos Pez González finished his studies at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam, and since then he has worked with diverse choreographers. As a performer, he has appeared in Jérôme Bel’s The show must go on (2001) and (re)SORT (2001) by Tom Plischke and BDC. He accompanied Olga De Soto in undertaking the choreographical research that was to lead to Eclats mats (2001), and is the male lead performing against Alice Chauchat in her recent creation choreographies (2002). At the moment Pez is working with Vera Mantero. The solo ECB is his debut as choreographer.


While the public enters the auditorium and takes their seats along two sides of the performance area, post-rock band Trans Am resounds through the loudspeakers. Armed response, the song is called, and it opens with an electronically manipulated guitar sound, a rhythmic substrate eventually dispelled by powerful interventions on bass and drums. Deep and driving melodic progressions on bass, slowly transforming the sound into distortion. Syncopated drums whose fast, terse beats fall in proportion to cymbals on overdrive. Regular interruptions of bass and drums, only to lapse back into the soft echo of guitar-plucking, accompanied by a lone hi-hat. It is a uniform soundscape where structures suddenly spring open only to once again implode, in which an apparition of silence is unexpectedly scared up in the process by energy and restlessness.

The lights are dimmed gradually, bit by bit, and by the time the silence returns it is pitch black. The space has quieted, along with the public, arousing their interest. The brusque about-face in the auditive and visual field works to heighten the senses.


Four lamps on the floor cast an indirect and feeble light on a space now occupied by a naked man. He moves in place in silence, utterly slow, in stark contrast to the loud and energetic music from a moment before. It takes a while before it becomes clear what there is to see; in a certain sense Pez’ dance is introspective and only reveals itself slowly to the viewer, as if time and space stood still and there were no question of movement.

The movement seems to be playing itself out on the surface of the body, or at least seems to be palpable in the skin. A torsion of the body, the tensing and un-tensing of a stomach muscle, the stretching of one of the members: all minute motions that leave traces on the skin for the wink of an eye, presenting themselves as a shifting landscape. It is the simplicity, slowness, and self-possession in the execution of the movements that permits a studious gaze, while providing insight into the ways in which a body moves. Or better yet, why a body would move in such a way: not how those movements become visible through their trajectory in space, but according to the schematics of the body, independent of the logics of vision.

Inasmuch as the skin allows us to look ‘in’ to that body, as it were, it is not here that this research into movement on the micro-level finds its origin. There is in fact such an allusion to introspection, but then only in terms of physicality: even as it seems to be standing still, the body bursts with activity and movement. As an example think of all the little sounds that accompany digestion or the workings of other organs. Under the influence of gravity the body never attains perfect equilibrium, there are always sudden tensions that determine our comings and goings, that surprise us at unexpected moments with a body that lives, that moves, even though we’re seldom consciously thinking about it. In diverse exercises implementing tension and balance, Pez makes this continuity of bodily activity visible.

Because of the inability to maintain situations of extreme balance, Pez makes sudden leaps which seem to be random, in search of a renewed balance: the presented body doesn’t establish itself against gravity, on the contrary it submits itself to it continually, and yet without surrendering to it. Going in search of another sort of equilibrium often leads Pez to strive after achieving equality between the various members of the body and the supports of his musculature. To our conditioned ways of seeing, there seems to be a disturbance in the hierarchy: it is in any case no longer a body guided by the ideal image of man walking erect, at the basis of a resultant visual field that has been canonised through the centuries. Its logic is a horizontal one, that doesn’t rest on a misconception of gravity. With its willful movements, the dancing of Pez’ body betrays a heteronomy that is no longer cerebral here. Although the solo remains quite abstract, the movements fit in somewhere with those of animals, through the necessity from which they spring forth.

With its leaps and sudden sideward lunges, the dancing body of Pez affects the spatiality of the room as well. A series of incidental spatial figures lend visibility to the cross-wize dynamics of the movement and its skewed perception. Also, within the relatively traditional framework of the presentation, they function as an index of a tactile horizontality, alive and at work within the visual and kinetic hierarchy of the human body as it is on stage. Make a comparison once with paintings made by Jackson Pollock: although mounted vertically in museum spaces, the drippings are still reminiscent of the horizontal working method, and in this way they thwart the patterns of expectation held by the average fully-developed viewer.(1) With Pez, the deconstruction of visuality is in function of something else: lending visbility to the movements as such of a body. To clarify: ‘as such’ refers here to movement and not the body, although the fact that the body of the dancer in ECB is not put to use in the first place as a vehicle for expression and meaning, but contains, rather, a larger ‘singular’ expressivity of that body, already works in its favor.


From a conversation with Carlos Pez, it turns out that during the creative process he works with, among other things, the opposition man/animal. In practice this forces him to have to come to terms with the emphatic power of the image, which tends to lead more towards stereotypes and clichés than to a tangible research, more to possible confusion than to an other sort of visibility. Besides which, the dance world is still swarming with overused prototypes of the man/animal figure, not the least of which is Nijinsky’s Faun. Any approach could rapidly become an eradication of the emphatic re-enactment of a man behaving like an animal on stage, as well as all the historical references bound up in that.

The idea of figure typology remains the point of the research in an amended form: namely, ECB stands for Ex-Cowboy, even if the programme leaflet makes no mention of it. “That link to the cowboy is nothing more than an in-joke, as if from the cowboy, all that remains is the ‘cow’,” relates Pez. “Still, the cowboy is a prototype of masculinity, and this is something I worked with. I wondered how I could suspend that ideological surface like a balloon in the space, and afterwards be able to insinuate myself there, and deconstruct it through a radical sensibilising of it.”

In ECB Pez’ skin thus behaves, when seen from this dramaturgical background, as a palimpsest as well. That is, as a sort of parchment (indeed, an animal skin), from which the text has been painstakingly scratched away and rendered invisible in order to make place for a new text. The skin then also appears explicitly as a bearer of meaning, an inscribed surface. No one in the audience would still be reminded of cowboys upon seeing the solo, even though a subtle reference remains to the infamous cow and Nijinsky’s Faun: Pez is painted in large, irregular swaths of black – make-up designed by Edurne Rubio.

It is a sight somewhat strange to behold: does this man actually resemble a cow, is he afflicted with a virus or a skin disease, or are some sort of birthmarks involved? The patches give rise to the question whether the concern here is with the natural element, or if not then with an artificially applied marking, a ‘dermography’. It is a dermography that would like to explicitly draw out a significance, but which one? The markings invite the viewer to literally read out loud, and leads the look that is initially directed toward the entire body, to take in all kinds of details. They grant the eyes access to the entire surface, not only fragmenting the look, but with the change in perception once the hierarchy of the body image is disturbed, now acting as a surface full of significance.

Meanwhile Pez is attentive to the reactions of his body, and observes his own skin himself as it continuously revises itself. All of these details heighten in his perception and are expanded upon each in turn, they determine the course of the dance as it were, however minimally. At certain moments Pez strikes himself on the thigh with the back of his hand: a slight colouration of the skin, and with this also a detail that changes in the landscape, as a trigger that propels movement, and with it significance, elsewhere.

We should be able to speak of a second form of horizontality, by virtue of a skin that behaves itself as a multiplicity of figures that, through their juxtaposition, eradicate the accessible image of the body and the meanings that are generated from poses connected to that body image. The parataxis of marks on the surface of the body itself, which serves to draw an equal amount of attention indifferently to all parts of the body, wraps Pez’ body in a sort of silence, because they speak a language which is ‘mute’, precisely because they ‘speak everywhere’.(2) An articulated looking loses itself in this skin, literally takes part in it, and it does this via an act of reading that is caught up in marks or signs, but unable to introduce any syntax or meaning in there.

Seen from this dynamic also, the space seems to come into play, even if it is again no more than via the camera-like view of traditional theater. The wandering gaze that would like to attach meaning to the countless details on Pez’ skin flits away just as often, always straying off into the space before homing in again and returning to that bodily surface. The course of this excessive act of reading allows itself to then be traced as an undestined spatial trajectory as well. And then to return once more to the palimpsest: it seems as if the gradiated surface, with its somewhat raw texture, has a tactility that radiates out over the space.


At times the dim light wraps Pez’ body in clair-obscur. It occurs rather coincidentally, not as an emphasized form of the power of the image, aspiring to the pictorial or sculptural. It is merely that the dark shifting surfaces of his body quickly meld imperceptibly with the painted patches of black. Our vision is then reminded of the fact that it is limited by darkness, but it is also limited by our standpoint: you don’t get to see whatever is happening on the other side of Pez’ body. This lack is emphasized by the presence of the spectators on the other side. In this way, the black patches on Pez’ skin symbolize the blind spots in our own ways of seeing as well, and here it is emphatically present to us as signs marking that bodily surface.

That brings us to the audience arrangements, with the viewers on the two sides of the performance area: this creates as it were a ‘democratic’ relationship to the theatre space – which in a political sense can also be thought in terms of its opposition to the royal or citizen hierarchy of opera houses. This results in a democratic view, as everyone sees just as much or just as little. There are no a priori focal points in the space of the viewer, and even less in the space of the looking. One’s own wandering gaze doesn’t lead in ECB to the need to project one’s own perceptions on all those present, in order to hypothetically be able to accomplish a more completed look – there is no image to answer to, in any case, and probably even less a community of viewers. Horizontality reigns here as well, the distribution of time and space have been rearranged for the viewer: there is time to look around, even time enough for indifference.

The democratic look involves the space without intending to, but paradoxically enough, to the same extent that it allows indifference, it allows generosity more than once by means of the dancer. Pez directs his gaze explicitly at the viewer, only to consequently direct it inward once more: he literally bends his body in half, bends back on himself as it were. Which causes his eye to land somewhere in proximity to his body, accidentally confronted with all sorts of details and fragments that influence the quality of the dance. And then to consequently direct himself back at the viewer: this wavelike motion is a plea for open-ness, one that forms the counterpart of the introspective focus on all sorts of various body parts.

At the end the music of Trans Am once again fills the hall, the same song, but this time while Pez dances on: the contrast between the apparent quietude and immobility of the body and its internal turbulence is emphatically staged here. Pez expands upon this further by placing himself nearby the public and remaining there motionless, and following this up by doing the same in front of another section of spectators, while the music swells to a space-filling crescendo. In these poses Pez is looking at the floor; obviously for him it is not about confrontation, but about presenting his body in a generous manner. Moreover it is no spectacular sight, and other than a little sweat, his body seems to have undergone little in the way of transformation, even if the viewer now shares for the first time the nearby perception of that body that until then had led the dance.

In this shifting of perspectives, this time Pez is consciously playing with the space. It is imploded, its scintillating texture is returned in one movement to the body’s surface, as a symbolic act. As if the skin, that had become space in diverse manners, here becomes skin again. As if the actual skin itself were restored, after all of the transformations it had undergone in the space of a half-hour show. Or how this generous offer to the public is also just one of so many meaningful gestures, a dermography that surpasses and liberates all those other dermographies.


(1) A more expansive theoretical notion on strategies of horizontality is left aside here. In relation to the paintings of Jackson Pollock, see Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind Kraus, Formless: A User’s Guide, New York, 1997, in particular pp. 26-29, 93-103, 126. In connection with the hierarchy of the body, see Denis Hollier, Against architecture, Cambridge Mass., 1989, pp. 76-85. An essay worth reading that looks into the matter of horizontality in contemporary dance is Laurent Goumarre, ‘La danse? Entre les arts’, Art Press 270, July-August 2001, pp. 21-26.

(2) In this connection see also Jacques Rancière, L’inconscient esthétique, Paris, 2001, pp. 35-39.


Choreography and dance: Carlos Pez González
Somatic advice: Patricia Bardi
Make-up design: Edurne Rubio
Music: Trans Am
Production: wp Zimmer (Antwerp, Belgium)