Violet

 There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

– Donald Rumsfeld

 I am curious what unknown Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods is venturing into with Violet that I saw at HAU 2 on October 30, 2013.  The program states that “Stuart once again ventures into the unknown.”  I would agree that she “has banished the socio-emotional issues that have coloured her previous pieces in order too concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract.”(from the program)  The other pieces I have seen by her, Replacement and Do Animals Cry, dealt a lot with social and emotional issues as far as I could tell.

Is Violet a venture into the unknown in terms of logic, tool, or aesthetic?  To concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract is not venturing into the unknown.  That realm of inquiry has been and continues to be heavily investigated.  Maybe the unknown refers to not knowing the results of a predetermined process.  As someone who also makes performance work, I am curious to know what the known knowns and the known unknowns are in this piece.  In other words, what was set(predetermined) and what was not(determined in the moment).  I am guessing that the upstage line of five dancers was known; that they would undergo solo states work was known; that the diagonal of  dancers from downstage right to upstage center stage was known; that the V shape of dancers was known; that the rolling clump of bodies was known.

I do not have an issue with elements, phrases, locations, etc. being predetermined in a piece.  But if the first sentence in the explicative text in the program talks about venturing into the unknown, I want that unknown to be defined.  Are the kinespheric processes unknown?  Are the spatial configurations that will arise unknown?  Is the sound unknown?  Or are they using known processes to discover something unknown.

However the piece is constructed and whatever the choreographer’s intentions may be, I appreciated the events on stage as they gave me a framework upon which I could lay some of my own questions about performance.  Simply put, I would say that Violet is a quintet of “balls to the wall” solos that are attempting to walk the fine line between ignoring the group and composing spatially with the group.  Watching the performance through that lens, I could think about my work with Lower Left.  The Ensemble Thinking work, as spatially clarifying and enlightening as it is, sometimes robs the dancer of a wild solo body.  The outward focus on the group’s spatial relationships can stultify the individual’s expression.  Violet, as I viewed it, is an inspirational, though not completely successful, step in the direction of co-mingling the wild low-brained body with a conscious and refined spatial awareness.  I say unsuccessful because several times I saw dancer’s “drop out” of their solo body work and shift their location to complete a line or angle in space.  Another point (and this might be a bit nit-picky) but the dancers used their right arms much more than their left arms to initiate and investigate movement.

The music by Brendan Dougherty does “produce a dense wall”.  At its loudest, which is a good chunk of the time, the music I found overwhelmed the dance.  Volume, in my opinion, is sometimes used for instant gravitas.  The dancers’ movement became insignificant beneath the weight of the sound.  At one point, a dancer screamed.  I couldn’t hear her through all the racket.  I could merely see the indication of a scream, a grimacing visage.  Quite an image if you want to use a social-emotional lens, even stronger if you add the lenses of race and gender – a white male making so much noise the scream of a small Asian female cannot be heard.  But we are in the kinetic and abstract so forget that interpretation.  Despite the volume, I enjoyed the music.

The large brown wall in the back looked like it was tacked on.  It was quite large but not large enough to envelope the theater/stage space and create a “space” within.  From where I was sitting I could not see enough of a reflection in it to give me another perspective on the events on stage.  The brown wall did, though, reflect the visible light spectrum nicely.  Everyone likes a rainbow.

In explaining the title Violet, Stuart says that “Violet is the last colour in the spectrum, before ultraviolet, before the unknown, before the imperceptible.”  Violet maybe the last color in the visible light spectrum right before ultraviolet.  But it is not before the unknown.  After ultraviolet rays are x-rays, gamma rays, and finally cosmic rays.  Granted everything after the violet is imperceptible to the human eye and therefore, in a sense, imperceptible.  Though we can sense prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays after the fact – sunburn.  But is she saying that something known but not perceptible with our five senses is actually unknown.  Is the body the ultimate arbiter of known and unknown?  If so, then why have the loud music and the brown wall?  Let’s enjoy sweaty, spinal, rolling, screaming, walking, falling, running, shaking, flinging bodies for their own sake.

She is right, though.  Violet is a great name for a rock band.  Too bad these guys got it.

A Few Thoughts on

 After Trio A
Andrea Bozic
HAU 2
19:30 7.12.12
Why did the female performer follow the male performer?
Why did she wear short sleeves and he long sleeves? Is that a reference to the phallus?
Why did she wear Nike and he Adidas?
Why did her shoe laces match her shirt, but this was not the case for the male performer?
Interpretation…always confusing…how are we supposed to know which elements to interpret?  And how? And if the piece is intended to be interpreted at all?
All that aside – The energies of the performers were quite different.  She approached the process of following a video of him following a video of Trio A danced by Rainer with much a much more task-oriented energy.  When I watched him I felt that he was performing personality more than following the process.  His energy was flying out to the audience instead of being channeled into the attempt to following the choreography.
But it is almost irrelevant, in my opinion, that the choreography from Trio A was used.  Any choreography would suffice.  As someone who is interested in the spectrum of deliberation in relation to choreography and improvisation and how a dancer responds to visual input, I am more interested in the process of instantaneous recreation than what the material is that is being recreated than the fact that Trio A was used.  The choreographer was asked to make a new work in relation to an historical piece and she chose Trio A.  Not a bad choice, I say, being a fan of the piece.  Also using such an iconic piece as a reference gives instant gravitas to this piece.

I am more interested in watching the body/mind of the dancer puzzle out the pathways in the moment, giving it the old college try and not commenting on it during it.  For this reason, for me Lito was more engaging, and truer to the spirit of Trio A, than Felix.

Blue Accords

Live from Berlin, it’s Monday night. Though when you read this it won’t be Monday night. Though chances are 1 in 7 that it will be a Monday, but not the same Monday night that I am writing this. I was lucky enough to see two shows in this year’s Tanz im August festival. I say lucky, not in relation to what I saw, but that I was able to get tickets. Seems like dance performances sell out here in advance. The tickets I got were for the Thomas Hauert/Zoo performance of Accords at the Akademie der Kunste performance and for the Juan Dominguez performance of Blue at Hau 2. I had never heard of these companies before. Availability determined my fate.

To be flippantly glib or glibly flippant (can one be flippantly flip?), I would say that Zoo’s performance of Accords was Flocking 201 mixed with simulstart and a peppering of bad contact and that Blue was bad acting with few props. Should I describe the performances in more detail? Should a Danish professor include the cartoons in her book about the cartoons and how they incited the Muslim world?

The set for Accords was an empty stage with black panels hung in the back. Each the height of the stage and about 3 feet wide, they were spaced widely enough apart for dancers to slide on/off stage between them. The lighting varied from general washes to sharp diagonal bands to lighting behind the backstage panels (one of my favorite parts) to murky gobos. The costumes were tight primary color pants and shirts covered in black mesh body suits. Sound was a smorgasborg. Wish I hadn’t recycled the program so I could tell you what the exactly range was. I remember classical music and the chirping of birds. Oh and Eric Satie. Thank gawd for Eric, because I was able to tell how far along we were in the performance. That is the only good thing about using a bunch of songs in performance, letting the audience figure out how much longer they have left, well that and to tell the audience how cool your iPod play list is.

The performance consisted of sections delineated by performers entering or exiting the stage through the spaces between the curtain. The sections were either simulstart/stop, flocking, or awkward partnering. Simulstart or simultaneous start is when the performers try to move at the same time. When engaged in this score, dancers tend to clump near each other and did Hauert and his dancers. Flocking is when people move in a clump changing spacing/facing with no discernible leader. Awkward partnering is skilled bodies coming in contact in an improvised manner consciously eschewing the CI movement paradigm. The tension in the hands and reluctance to full engage the hands on the bodies of other dancers lead me to believe that the dancers did not have much CI training. But I cannot be sure as the program did not have any information on the dancers themselves.

Three memorable sections:
1. The panels were lit from behind and the dancers ran them cross stage. It was like watching stills from a movie(French guy?Lumiere?), runners caught mid-stride.
2. Two dancers lying on the ground down stage left, light from above. Simple movements of limbs extending across and above each other.
3. All 7 dancers onstage dimly lit with a marsh(?) soundscape. Dancers would move with similar timing and flavor to the bird calls in the soundscape.

Why were these more memorable sections? I’d say the first one was the change of relationship to the set and the visual pop dancers appearing in bright light. The second because it was something besides simulstart/stop, flocking, or awkward partnering. And the movement wasn’t as frantic allowing some respite from locorhea (movement diarhhea?) as can happen in improvisation and well choreography too for that matter. The third, though it was kinda cheesy and strawberry ice cream, 5, 5, 5, 5, I get it 5, but it was nice to see a more direct relationship between the movements and sounds. “The bird is chirping and I am dancing in the same rhythm, whee!!”

What was Hauert trying to reveal to the audience? Listening skills? The performers had rehearsed a lot and it was enjoyable to watch the skilled bodies move simultaneously. But their energy was too inward, too much into the group. Can a group be tuned and aware with out everyone having to look into the center? One woman who came out and did a solo (that was too short) was lithe and rubber limbed and able to go in an direction with ease, drawing support from all facets of her body. Too short in that she was joined by another dancer for a close range let’s look at each other and smile simulstart duet, “show the audience what you are feeling, that you are having a good time” It was also enjoyable to see the melding of flocking and simulstart, different dancers taking the initiative to change to facing or the vocabulary. And as nice as it is to see an improvisation stay within a world or a frame, I felt that this one went on too long. But maybe Hauert was using the boredom created to make those three sections pop. I think a little less boredom would have made them pop just fine.

Blue by Juan Dominguez as I stated before was bad acting with a few props. Or maybe it was avant garde dancing with a few props, or maybe it was advanced guard singing with a few props, or maybe it was fortgeschrittene Wache welding with a few props. In these post-disciplinary days (a term I learned about recently from a friend who learned about it from the Art Institute of Chicago), I can’t say for sure what it was – dance, singing or welding. But as Blue was part of Tanz im August, Blue with be viewed as dance for the purposes of this diatribe…I mean review.

The recap – 4 people standing on stage, 2 women hugging center stage, a man stage right near 2 cases of water bottles, another woman stage left. A black curtain arcing from upstage right to center stage. Full white lighting exposing the walls, pipes etc. And they kept standing, and standing. Yep, I must be in Europe, the piece is starting with standing. Add in self conscious smiling. Another man enters. The five dancers (welders? weavers? clowns?) clump together, hold hands occasionally kiss each other on the check, shift position. A piece of cheesecake enter the scene and two women eat it with exaggerated enjoyment. “Show the audience what you are feeling and tasting” I imagined the choreographer (director? conductor? therapist?) saying. Pants are removed, shirts exchanged, a wig appears on the bald guy. Someone leaves stage, the performers start laughing uproariously as one of them enters with a piece of black cloth. Fingers become horns and a bull fight ensues. An iron board, a TV and a large piece of iron that is used as a couterbalance enter the stage. More laughter. Someone pulls up the white marley and crawls under pretending to go to sleep. More laughter. Sexual innuendos appear – A man sucking a plastic bag, rubbing his ass crack on the corner of the wall, a woman rubbing her nipples on a rope. Another woman humping the crack between two marley sheets. “We’re doing the sex thing. Wink Wink.” A woman thrusts her left breast repeatedly into a boot. Rubbing each others noses, a duet goes between recognizable and silly sexual acts. The five dancers clump together each touching or groping at least 1 other person. As soon as the nudity appeared about 15 people started to leave. Not sure if it was because of the nudity or that they finally had had enough. Enough of what exactly? Watching five people “experience” things in an exaggerated manner? After the mock orgy, a ping pong ball appeared and the dancers(?) formed a circle. Throwing the ball back and forth the performers screamed. One by one they left the stage. Oh, I think I forgot to mention the part when the water bottles were rolled across stage. This, too, was seen as hilarious.

The audience half heartedly clapped. I booed. The performers did not reappear. The audience clapped louder trying to get the welders(?) back on stage. They did not appear.

My main objection to this piece was that there were no boundaries. Anything could have happened and it would have fit in the piece. Maybe that was Dominguez’s point. Anything goes. In the program he wrote – Reversing the temporality of events, putting them out of context…- Yep, I guess that is what I mean by boundaries, the events had no context. He also wrote – …prolonging the pleasure…exaggerated manner…- Was that the faux sex and exaggerated enjoyment of the cheesecake? -…tracing the amorphous… – sounds impossible – …imagining reality… – why bother? it’s already here- – …transforming curiousity…astonishing more –

AHHH, THIS REVIEW IS GETTING TO BE WAY TOO LONG AND LOSING FOCUS…

(hmm…sounds like the last piece)