What’s in a “Torsion”?

The title is, actually, very accurate. The show is about the act of twisting and turning. As with all metaphors, it’s all in the how.

It opens to grand Hollywood airs, the ‘30s type you expect grand cabaret ballet corps to flood the stage on, plumed, long legged and all smiles. It’s the Overture from Funny Girl, but the setup is rather austere, an all encircling white screen and two metallic bars suspended midair, perhaps recalling bird swings.

The two dancers that do emerge, in just as grand, reprised tours of the stage, cut definite, all black silhouettes against the white screen. Their explorations, however, could not be more different. One is angular, Matrix like, ample and pointed, the other is undulating, a wavering body.

The light then dims, and Hanauer’s precise and edgy contemplating the rebellion movement takes us into a moony, trance inducing state of mind. A dancer from Solaris, I catch myself thinking. Then Joudkaite enters and proceeds into orbit like twists in space, for what must be over a minute. The two intersect in perfectly timed hugs. Is she searching for the hug, is that a refuge or a random collision? In black leotard, Lora fills the stage in beautiful floating and I have the time to recall images of all things twirling and twisting: a dervish, a ballerina in a box, a planet, a whirlwind, a vortex, a spinning top. She occasionally varies the rhythm, her arms waving in hallucinating ellipses. When she stops, she shows no inertia, stepping away in full control.

Hanauer balances that with movement in perfect sync with Nina Simone’s Feelings, anchoring her body and the audience in a welcome change of rhythm and reality. From where I stand, she looks like she’s wearing loose pants and a tank top, plus a really cool, wide, bracelet on her left arm. It’s actually a prosthesis, but I only see that when we meet after the show.

When Joudkaite returns for a second act of torsion, we are let in her story. She spins and tells a tale of sisterly love, childhood emotions sharable or impossible to, of freedom and letting go. The internal dialogue I echo at times – as Joudkaite compares spinning with watching through the train window, I recall the excitement of my train trips as a child – is then symmetrically closed with Funny Girl’s Overture.

“It was intriguing, there was a lot going on, it almost felt impossible in terms of the physicality of it. The fact that it stayed intriguing all through the one hour was fascinating. For me it’s not something that I understood very well, and maybe that’s the beauty of it. I did not really get the story, but visually it was mesmerising, you can’t keep on spinning like that, you can’t do that, it’s next to impossible,” says Ajay Naqvi, who sometimes goes to contemporary dance shows with this friends.

“Wonderful. When you see show after show for nights on end, you are generally left with a mood, rather than the memory of a gesture. This kind of play, you carry with you for a long time. It also takes you back to your own childhood, to your own states of being, and, what is after all wonderful in theatre and particular to dance, it transports you. And it also slightly challenges your imagination to get in the shoes of the character. You find depth beyond the complexity of movement or its homogeneity. It’s a structure that works with minimal means to give a ravishing set of feelings specifically because the challenge is within, not only on stage. I liked it very much. It is, as I was saying, memorable,” adds Andrei Țărnea.

How can the human being spin for so long, I ask Lora Joudkaite. “I don’t know how to answer that, I don’t know what it means to not turn. I’ve been doing this since childhood. The idea of talking came in rehearsal. Rashid [Ouramdane] said “just speak.” And then I start to turn and speak and explain, travel in my mind, to my childhood. And it’s so private, my sister heard this when I played in Lithuania and said “it’s good at least you didn’t say my name. This is our story, why are you saying this?” I spoke a lot and Rashid made it shorter and then I needed to learn it. I said it in English, in German, I am learning it in French, for he Africa tour. Russian, too. The turning bars are Rachid’s idea, but for us, we are calling our friends, they are also spinning, the world is spinning, Earth is spinning, I am spinning. For me it’s a symbol, this is metal, machine, and I am human. For me it’s about this.”

Annie Hanauer doesn’t “speak directly to the audience, but I feel like I have a quite direct connection with the audience, I am sharing a lot with them with my focus and my movement. I feel like there are elements of my personality behind that, being a bit light and not serious, but actually behind that there is something deep and meaningful. Particularly for me the Nina Simone [bit] has a lot of emotional layers and amazing sound and her voice layers everything in there, it’s really nice to work with that. I felt a nice focus from the audience, they were really with us and it was a pleasure to be here, so it’s kicking of the tour in a nice way for us.”

“People say that [the arm does not look like a prosthesis] sometimes and I don’t know because I kind of don’t believe it, I can see what you mean, for me it’s really part of me, it’s not something I think about, really. My body has given me a particular perspective. Sometimes we just see a dancer.” That’s all there is to see.

* TORDRE by Rachid Ouramdane was the special guest show of the Contemporary dance season, on the occasion of FranceDanse Orient-Express Romania, on Thursday 2 November 2017.

**Text written with the occasion of the Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017.

The Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017 cultural project is supported within the cultural program Bucharest participatory city, by the Bucharest Mayor’s Office through the Bucharest Cultural Centre ARCUB.

On engagement, with delicate instruments

I just stepped onto the set of George Michael’s Freedom, Cindy Crawford at my feet, arms over chest in pop icon bathtub pose. Meters away, Linda Evangelista stretches against the wall, looking to the side, just like in Michael’s music video. Or Madonna’s. I can’t decide. This Cindy Crawford, though, is blonde and does pretty convincing soprano sprints and Celine Dion reprises. And there is no bathtub. Only the vast, carpeted, echoey lobby of the Omnia Hall. It’s also quite cold.

There is a pace to the action, too. Five performers cover the entire perimeter, moving from statuary groups to insular action, declaiming, reciting, dancing, singing and interpreting for the non-Romanian speaking audience. It takes me a while to get into it, but luckily, of that, there is plenty. Delicate instruments of engagement plays on continuously for four hours.

I follow searching for meaning through a speech on the political resistance of Chile from a contemporary hero (whose name, alas, escapes me), a confounding book launch discourse from one of Romania’s ministers of agriculture, whose ineptitude sets the German tourists across the hall off in unrestrained laughter, a reenactment from Romania’s 1989 live revolution I’d watched on TV as a child, a Wailing Wall sequence where we are encouraged to release a secret into the confidence of one of the performers, and a human search engine inviting any question. I go for “orange” and get a motley of vitamin C stats, grandma’s cake recipes with orange zest, and references to Communist scarcity thereof. Another member in the audience tries on “notion,” and reboots the system. “Would you like to search another word?” replies a member of the engine after about a minute of silence. Not much is new, but the interaction is uplifting.

Actually, the interaction is where the performance, or whatever the precise definition is, does it for me. Eventually, I figure out I am witnessing a puzzle. But the kick is in understanding the puzzle moves with me. Or rather for me. Let me explain.

A performer invites anyone in the audience to participate in an artist’s installation. You will have your ears covered by the performer’s hands for over a minute, experiencing closeness and touch in a perfectly noninvasive way. Our eyes either do not meet, or, when they do, I am not provoked in either way. The human installation is there to serve me. Later, the said Cindy Crawford, i.e. Paula Gherghe, delivers Titanic’s “My heart will go on” eyes glued on me throughout. Embarrassed at first, I just let go and take it in. It feels like an act of generous acknowledgement of my presence.

And of course, the first reason of all: the action is structured in four parts. Upon each completion, anyone in the audience is invited to choose a new beginning, and the flow goes on. I go for the covering of the Guernica tapestry at the United Nations during Colin Powell’s speech, advocating for the American intervention in Iraq, in 2003. The options are Erdem Gunduz’s “The Standing Man” passive resistance protest back in 2013, the “Confused Travolta” meme and Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Abduction of Europa,” painted in 1632, but in this context, more of a pretext for meditation on nationalistic threat.

It actually feels like a human version of the online world, with functions structured along the same principles of interaction, with calls to action with one or several options. Would you like to search for a word? Would you like to choose your next story, better yet be a part of it? Would you like to post something anonymously? Would you like us to read or play something for you? Just click. Or say so. Alexandra Pirici has reenacted the internet. And it is a rather delicate subject in nature. Revolutions have resulted off it.

“The work is not a “performance,” rather an “ongoing action,” says a seriously overbooked Pirici, engaged, ironically, online. “Delicate Instruments…..” re-transmits a mix of pop culture, art and politics in various dramatics the audience can select from.”

Maria Mora, one of the performers and a self called product of CNDB, gives a sneak peak into the creative kitchen. “The performance is multilayered, also an endurance exercise, you must be physically and psychologically fit to take it on. It becomes repetitive and you see yourself better, perhaps today your voice is weaker, it’s a rather meditative exercise, rather minimalist and clear. Nuances arise as you feel the medium, the country. In Russia, we had a super empathetic audience .At the Wailing Wall people lined up to each one of us. They were speaking in Russian and it was not really about secrets, but an exercise to see what it’s like to talk to us. Nobody came in Germany.

The audience is very important. Observing has become an almost scientific discovery for me. When the audience steps in, the whole work is transformed. We try and play with the space, get them out of the passive mode, where they come in, sit on a chair and wait for the end. That’s why we play with the zero point, when our face is turned to them. We move further and closer, to get them to move.”

Alexandru Paul “liked it, although I can’t say why, I think it was more of a mood thing. At first I couldn’t understand, but then I did and it even moved me. Maybe it’s theatre, maybe it’s dance, it’s a performance actually. [The question to the human search engine on Alexandra Pirici] was a trap I set for them, but it did not work, they were circumstantially OKish. I came in a bit reticent, many times I am bored and/or aggressed by this kind of performances, but this was good, it did not tend to aggress me, to confound me.”

*Text written with the occasion of the Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017.

The Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017 cultural project is supported within the cultural program Bucharest participatory city, by the Bucharest Mayor’s Office through the Bucharest Cultural Centre ARCUB.

“We are all lichens” made me clean my closet

Walking into the set of We are lichens is like an immersion into a languid version of Children of men. Still dark and unkempt to dirtiness, but without the structure and the drama. Precisely what the title advertises. Although, there is another layer built into it. All, we are all lichens, but more on that in a bit.

Textbooks probably call that performing action unconventional, as in put together outside the typical convention of an audience to whom catharsis is served in the given theatre geometry. Indeed the setup turns out to be a pretext for both the actors and whomever ventures in, and catharsis is a private matter. Needless to say, there are no applauses, no stage, no seats.

I walk into the dim lit lobby of Omnia Hall, where behind a curtain of 70’s looking decorative pillars, lies an underground colony of the lost to purpose. It’s cold and nightmarish. In fact, it feels like entering somebody else’s subconscious.

Captive to computer screens, vacuum cleaner hoses, cables, sheets of tinfoil and other piles of junk, six performers lie in wait and activate to gestures without apparent end. My first thought is they are entangled, but unable to process a request for help. Bruegel’s Children’s games comes to mind, the partnerless version, all nuclei of action, parables of ineptitude. From the outside, it looks terrible futile and lonely.

One sits on a high table top and plays with a rubber band. It’s too dark to see any trace of enjoyment on Andreea David’s face, but it would be the exception to a pre-existing neutrality, neighbouring the debility. Another brings bulbs from all over the universe and lays them on a piece of carpet. It creates an accidental spot of light that goes unacknowledged, let alone celebrated. Then decides to move all of it with no apparent logic. When they move, the inhabitants of this world move their junk with them. I catch myself auditing the contents of my house, all of the sudden motivated to downsize.

On the cold marble floor, another builds minuscule fort like strings of cement, which will lay abandoned until, burdened to a yolk of junk, yet another performer will crawl next to it and observe it emotionless. There is no soundtrack to this, with the exception of a brief groan-like female song, in fact there is no audible dialogue.

I am flooded with film comparisons. It’s Micmacs a Tire-larigot, but without the humour and composed aesthetic. Boxtrolls without the sense fuelled action. Because, we have been told, they are lichens. All of them, objects and humans alike. In fact, we are all lichens, spectators included.

I’m not sure like/no like applies here. At first it felt like organised chaos, but then, when one of the performers came close, as I was able to move around them, I wanted to go in and do the same. I can’t really compare it to anything. I was not overwhelmed by emotion, rather I felt a short impulse, a timeless in-between, like when you take a picture or watch a movie and something just happens, instantaneously,” says Mirela Țîrlea, for the second time at a performance during the season.

Nicoleta Enache “entered a desolate, found space, where I had to find my place. I could have been a being or an object. I let myself hypnotised by the installation, without any explanations.”

On the run to her next show, Andreea David recounts her lichen tales: “it’s a fusion, a contamination, you give up authorship, being the human who acts, and let things infect and inform you. It’s a horizontality, not a hierarchy between humans and objects. New meanings emerge, other than those we are used to. How do you spin a ball differently? How do you take the roundedness, the quality of being able to spin and use them differently? How does this  piece of information lead you? How do you factor in gravity? What qualities does a ball have other than that we know from football?” I smile discreetly, triggered by her inquiry into the functionality of things. I can’t refrain from musing how Andreea’s profession of origin, architect, informs her creations in the realm of contemporary dance.

The performance very well illustrates a reality of mutism, perhaps a contemporary reality. There’s not much use of the eternal mechanism of music, other than to emphasise an unbearable atmosphere, a dull suffering we do not express and live with moving objects, or somehow arranging the ordinary. All is reduced here, emptied of drama, all moves in circle, Brauninan like. Byung-Chul Han, a German philosopher of South Korean origin speaks of a disoriented world, a society of fatigue and of performance, at the same time. These are two sides of the same coin. Mutism is not silence, is the incapacity to speak, neighbouring ineptitude, oblivion. Gilles Lipovetsky explains, in his work “La Culture-Monde,” how culture has descended into the ordinary, which is very hard to transcend, we sink into it, are stuck. The vibe [of the performance] was of adhering to objects, to things, to not being capable of letting go of,” says philosophy professor Ștefan Vianu.

Depressing as I find it, the action is therapeutic in consequences. The next day I reach out for warm gloves, I take out the trash, I spend the sunny afternoon with mom in the park.

*We Are All Lichens is a performative framework designed by Farid Fairuz, with performers Maria Baroncea, Mădălina Dan, Andreea David, Rui Catalo and Farid Fairuz; it is a project co-produced by the Solitude Project Cultural Association, the National Centre for Dance in Bucharest, Colectiv A Cultural Association in Cluj, and co-funded by the National Cultural Fund Administration (AFCN).

**This text was written with the occasion of the Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017.

The Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017 cultural project is supported within the cultural program Bucharest participatory city, by the Bucharest Mayor’s Office through the Bucharest Cultural Centre ARCUB.