Seeing What No One Else Did: Dance from Bucharest and Berlin

SEEING WHAT NO ONE ELSE DID
Dance from Bucharest and Berlin

I spent the entire time watching Cosmin Manolescu & Serial Paradise Company’s Supergabriela at P.S. 122 with a blindfold on.  I didn’t do it intentionally, I just didn’t think I had a choice.   I had moments of anger, or perhaps more frustration, but then things kept happening.  I had been given a blindfold with everyone else waiting outside the theater, but if there was an instruction to remove the blindfold whenever I wanted, my date and I missed it completely.  Though we were separated at the door and led through our own blackness, we both, unaware of the other, remained masked, seeing and unseeing.

I had several blind interactions with the performers – one asked me to write a word about her on her body, with what I later learned was a tube of lipstick.  I wrote “SENSUAL”.  My date wrote “SMOKER”.  Later the same woman, perhaps, or another, asked “Do you have a cigarette?”.  I quietly said no, wishing somehow that I had, and she exhaled loudly and departed.  Later, I felt what I decided was an animal pelt being rubbed on my forearm.  Because of these, I was certain that the performers were aware of me wearing the blindfold.  I kept thinking, if they want me to take it off, they’ll tell me.  Much later, I heard snickers from some of the other audience members.  Perhaps they are taking people’s blindfolds off, one by one, slowly revealing themselves, the other audience members and the space.  Or, I imagined at some point, feeling hot light on my face and body, that I, in my place on the stage, had become part of the performance, and that if I took my blindfold off, as I at times longed to do, I would be faced with everyone in the audience looking at me, and laughing.  But this did not come to pass – rather, one of the women touched my hand, stood me up, and danced a tender slow dance with me, spinning herself around me, holding me close, hugging me, dipping herself, all the while shuffling her feet and leading us along.  And I realized it was one of the most beautiful duets I had ever experienced, and didn’t want it to end, and knew that it was only possible, like that, because I was blindfolded.

I ruminated on what I had read, prior to seeing the show, about how the piece was inspired by Cosmin Manolescu’s recent loss of his wife, Gabriela.  And I began to think about grief, what it would be like to lose someone I deeply loved, and to feel the extreme tension of their absence, and this gave me another frame in which to experience my near blindness (opening my eyes underneath the black cloth, I could see orbs of light, shape, and occasional color if a performer moved close to me).   This might be exactly what that torture of loss would entail – hearing the voice, smelling the lingering scents left behind, seeing the ghostly shape, color, haze.

There was a moment of big change, lots of shuffling around, chairs being moved, but mine did not.  People moved around me, as though I were the pillar around which they assembled, and a woman gently rubbed my thigh.  I decided I was being taken care of, and no matter how much it seemed as though I was the only one not seeing, at this point I didn’t want to.  I wanted the dark world of vivid imagination, relinquished control, heightened sensation, to the very end.

It was like watching a David Lynch movie – all the noir-ish-ness, the smoky songstress, the strangeness and confused erotic non sequiturs with no discernible narrative – and yet a world that left me thinking, quiet and pensive, long into the night.  My companion talked about his experience as a Mark Rothko painting – fields of color and light.  Either way, we both felt the magic of the dark.

———

I went to BAM on Saturday night having read Claudia La Rocco’s review of Sasha Waltz’s Gezeiten in the New York Times, and Andy Horwitz’s review here on Culturebot.  I’d heard from plenty of other people whose opinions I respect that it just wasn’t any good.  And, though it feels a little like admitting I voted for Bush (which I DIDN’T), I have to say, against the tide of popular and critical opinion, I liked it.

What I saw was a work in three big parts – part one, showing us human beings interacting with each other in peace.  A tranquil place of beauty and a little humor.  Then a giant terrible crash.  Part two – human beings interacting with each other in crises.  Not pretty.  They sense weakness, sickness, disease, plague in one another, and react as we humans do – with a selfish, brutish violence.  This develops into part three – human beings interacting with each other after surviving said horrific catastrophe.  Things are not the same.  Perhaps this is post traumatic stress disorder embodied, made theatrically larger than life.

From what I gather, one of the great problems was with duration.  And perhaps also with the non-sensical nature of the course of events.  Lots of effects were used – smoke, fire, part of a brick wall collapsing, the entire floor being ripped up, as though in earthquake.  Waltz definitely put her cast through most imaginable terrors.  What started out as a terrible world beyond the walls of this undefinable space, quickly became a horror within.  I saw more concrete references to scare tactics and torture, the darker side of group (dis)functionality, but things continued to become stranger and stranger still – like entering a filmic psych ward.

The piece most reminded me, abstractly, of Anna Halprin’s parades & changes, replays staged last year at Dance Theater Workshop, which was just awarded a BESSIE last month.  I felt similarly about this work and Waltz’s – there were many inexplicable, strange, visually interesting but durationally challenging episodes that pretty much led to nothing but itself. This seems to be the critique I have read about Waltz’s Gezeiten.  But for me, Waltz’s contextualization is what makes hers a stronger piece (though she has much to credit in Halprin’s seminal work before her – these pieces could be two branches of the same choreographic tree).  Her staging of the repulsive, creepy, strange and scary human psyche, the absolute darkest parts of us that we don’t want to admit are real, that in a state of emergency (which is almost always also a state of panic) allow us to become rabid creatures of dangerous self-protection and survival at all its repulsive costs – this is what I saw.  Sure, the choreography only lasts for about the first hour or so, and even then there isn’t much to be ecstatic about, but I don’t think this piece is really much about the dancing.  The metaphoric and abstract universe of the physical provide impetus for a more compelling psychological exploration.  And perhaps that is what makes so many of us uncomfortable – it is seeing our anxieties, our paranoia and the troubled realization of our blunt impulses, the sad but telling truth of our limitations and failures, that is too much to bear.

6 thoughts on “Seeing What No One Else Did: Dance from Bucharest and Berlin”

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