As if blown-up cheeks could drag you down …

In the flickers of light which flash into the darkness of the theater space six dancers slowly become recognizable. Standing in a certain distance to each other they form a half circle at the far end of the flat stage area of the HAU2 in Berlin (6.Dec. 2014).

Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual - Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin

Their hands are hidden in the pockets of their flight jackets, shoulders brought forward. With their crouched backs and blown up cheeks posture and habit recall birds who try to deal with a cold winter’s breeze. A circular arrangement of light above them seems to be their directive, its ray of light defining the space for movement. In what reminds slightly traditional dance steps they start to move in a circular routine. The movements are calm and slow, still they seem exaggerated.

At this early point of the piece their air filled cheeks make me think and slightly worry about their general breathing, especially as due to increasing action and the heat from above some of the dancers’ faces and heads start to look strained. On the other side this mouth full of air gives them a sort of abstract look indicating that individuality obviously is not one of their first concerns. They move in regularly, but interrupted step patterns, getting in and out of certain groupings while continuing more or less the circular rotation that due to the arrangement of light above them, seems to be the main initiator of and for their actions.

Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual - Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin

At least at this moment it is not clear, what effects a sudden flattening of the blown up cheeks in correlation or complementation to their movement, while later they almost ‘steal’ their breaths or other sort of utterances from each other’s face and mouth. Yet it appears as if the blown up cheeks give them a sort of security for their own composition, as to support the keeping up as an entity by holding in the breath, blowing up oneself becomes self-definition. Nevertheless slowly their interest evolves into the direction of one another and to get in touch with each other. Now they even risk to bring the hands out of the flight jacket pockets which had fixed them as another seemingly defensive attitude in front of their belly.

Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual - Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin

I recall that the title of the piece suggests a ‘contemporary ritual’ located and enacted in the relational space of Kat Válastur’s “newtopia”. She writes:

In “Ah! Oh! – A Contemporary Ritual” the circle is the field that will interact with the performers. The quality of the interaction transmits qualities to the space and will cause changes to the landscape. The intensity of this encounter causes the idiosyncratic kinetic “explosion” that shutters its stillness. The more intense the encounter is, the purer the kinetic fragments of the “explosion” will be. The incorporation of the crystallized kinetic fragments becomes what I call “the sculpture”. The sculpture is the performing. The landscape in which the sculpture is wandering is derived from this bidirectional relation between the space and the body. I acknowledge that the loaded space is also affected by the body that enters. Across the space I project a topography that reflects the reaction of the space to its intruder. The landscape that reveals is my “Newtopia”. (1)

Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual - Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin

“Newtopia” as I experienced it is a dystrophic space defined by the big circular light, which reduces the six performers in the first scenes to a group of loners in search for scarce reminders of habits. The ritual they attempt to enact is a combination of oblivious steps of group dancing, gestures and walking modes as if on a fashion catwalk and a general confrontation of bodies which have unlearned to meet each other. Reminiscences of our contemporary lifestyle as actions that have lost or never had developed a communicative strand. Consequently the performers only find to wider movements in a scene that is lit by an almost slow-motion stroboscopic effect that has each dancing for themselves.

When the light returns to shine in its full circle the dancers seem again to deeply sink into their first posture. As if blown-up cheeks could drag one down. More inverted than ever before the dancers nevertheless seem to find interest in grabbing for each other’s face – like a grasping for the breath. But the faces only return for a short moment to their normal shape, a short shaking of the head and the unifying copious look returns. Security re-established.

Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual - Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin

Refraining here from interpreting this further, and while also not sure if I listed all events in the right order, I definitely want to refer to the sudden turn the ending delivers. It starts when the dancers come together at the right back corner of the stage, finally taking off their jackets and shoes, meanwhile the ring of light at the center slowly lowers from the ceiling until it is hanging only about 1.3 meters above the ground.

The six dancers slowly return, not before though each of them has been grabbing something from a little bag hanging from the ceiling at the far end. They come forward now to sit in a circle below the lowered lighting system and after carefully eating, what could be tiny pieces of apple or alike. Slowly each of them starts to search for some small singular motion. From time to time smaller or bigger ‘kinetic’ eruptions of single performers occur.

Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
Ah! Oh! A Contemporary Ritual – Kat Válastur, HAU 2, Berlin
One might think they finally find a way to their own expression or voice. It are small sounds, almost unseen movements and we do not understand them really. And exactly in this lies the fine and optimistic promise of “newtopia” as I understood it.

Kat Válastur describes the process to reach it as an “intellectual process of creating an imaginative place [that] becomes a state of consciousness. […] It is a new state of mind and becomes visible through a consistent kinetic vocabulary. What forms this kinetic vocabulary inside that special space is a field of imagined forces. The field is produced by loads, as I call the elements that bring these forces into being. They complement and react to each other […]”.(2)

Indeed it was a force of load which the mixed, rather young audience encountered in tense silence, with keen attention and reciprocating with rounds of applause. Ah well, oh indeed – a quite contemporary ritual! Contemporaneity though was not splely established in the way of dressing or by the stage design, though they were part of it, but even more through the sort of body language. The choreographer defines it as ‘kinetic’ – to my mind came the phrase ‘affective dance’. Though one that addresses affectivity not as a sheer bodily response to influences, but as a complex interplay between body and expressions. Evolving from the gap between routine movement patterns and their slightly different placement it hinders full ‘legibility’ of the (dance) writing (3). Thus it demands for redefinition and allows the emergence of a different meaning that still has to be deciphered.
_______
footnotes (1) & (2) cited from “Dancing Real Utopia”
(3) choreography literally means “dance-writing” from the Greek words “χορεία” (circular dance, see choreia) and “γραφή” (writing) (Wikipedia)

* * *

About the choreographer:

Interview with Kat Válastur

Kat Válastur – Katerina Papageorgiou lives in Berlin where she had post graduate studies in dancing. There she created the group AdLib, with which travels around the world for her shows. She has worked with very important performers, such as the Ground Team of Dimitris Papaioannou and the Octana of Konstantinos Rigos. Her philosophy can be summarized in her phrase ‘’Break the mirrors’’, trying with this way to underline her need to see everything through a procedure of deconstruction and abstraction. (from www.lovegreece.com)

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