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Nanine Linning - Warp/Marble Program

Looking into the Darkness

'Solo v. 5.0', ' Karpp...?', 'Warp/Marble'

by Maria Technosux

February 13, 2004 -- Bellevue, Amsterdam

Two yuppies were having a cup of coffee at work. Yuppie A turned to yuppie B and said: "You know, I'm so tired of all these traffic jams every day. I think we all ought to carpool from now on." Yuppie B was flabbergasted. "WHAT?" he shouted. He almost choked in his coffee. He turned to his colleague, still dumbfounded that anyone would actually suggest such nonsense. "Karpp...?" he mumbled. He shook his head in disbelief. "What's gotten into you?" he wondered.

I truly don't know from where Linning got the title “Karpp...?”  So I made up this little story to explain the title to myself. Better suggestions are welcome.

Despite her insistence on lighting as an important technology in all of her works, the first word I would use to describe the Linning aesthetic would be ‘dark’. After all, we have that good old saying: “When does a candle shine the brightest? Always in the dark.”

I do acknowledge that this insistence on darkness could be due to a personal bias. Surely I wouldn't characterize a whole ballet based on 1930’s animations as ‘dark’. My problem is that I haven't seen that particular ballet – “Bubblegum Wrapper” simply hasn’t reached my town yet.

And yes, I do have a bias towards the dark. I want to see something with a dark atmosphere,  claustrophobic and dense all at the same time. Strength and massiveness versus despair and imprisonment. It's not black versus white that I am looking for, but light-black versus shady-black on a background of sheer black. Think “Steps in the Street” by Martha Graham: depression dance in whatever way one would want to interpret that term. Think of Stravinsky's insanity and disturbance within his Violin Concerto in D. This is what I like.

If I had to choose between your average ballet about hetero relationship problems and female mystique on the one hand, and ballets about Tourette's patients in a mental ward on the other – Big Brother-type Darwinian laboratories and industrial/gothic lighting extravaganzas – I know what I would spend my money on!

Please, boys and girls, do come back from underneath your beds! Linning's darkness isn't mortifying. Surely when I read of new dances based on cartoons and animations, I was thinking more along the lines of a Tim Burton flick rather than a Clive Barker movie.  Linning’s is a darkness that is pleasantly weird and playful. For all the grisly trappings it has a reassuring, explorative attitude to movement that reduces the scare-factor and invites one along.

Linning is the resident choreographer of the Scapino Ballet Rotterdam contemporary ballet company. Artistic director and long-time resident choreographer Ed Wubbe "discovered" her and incorporated her into the troupe a few years ago. I can see why. Wubbe’s own choreographic movement has gotten more conservative over the years (certainly more stark in his use of line), and is certainly more classical than Linning's. However, both styles are spacious and rather explosive. Scapino works are undeniably ballet-based, but it does not attempt to escape gravity and is not ashamed of its groundedness. It makes heavy use of the illusion of statuary poses that ballet is so well-known for, but this is just temporal. Ballet occurs rather like a sudden outburst; the balletic momentum is always assaulted and thus never really airborne – even in its use of lifts and jumps.

The Warp/Marble program was an opportunity to witness the development of Linning as a choreographer. I am hesitant to use the word "progress" because it suggests a conscious point on the map one is intended to move towards. I think that we all know that dance doesn't work that way. This retrospective program was an attempt to work myself backwards through her material and to make better sense of present and future works.

From “Solo v 5.0” to “Warp/Marble”, the eloquent use of many different lights seems to be as much a part of the choreography as the dancers themselves. The term "worshipping the lights", used in the gothic subculture to joke about typically gothic dance-movements, is almost turned literal here.

Take for example the use of lights in the 2001 duet “Karpp...?”  Remember the first time you fooled around with the filters in Adobe Photoshop? This is what the use of light looks like in this piece. It is as if a different filter was used for each part of the choreography. A very interesting perceptual experiment, and it was fun to talk about one’s "favourite filter" afterwards. This wasn't just a neat party-trick, though. I really felt that she was demonstrating all these different filters and methods of lighting in order to push her message home: that light is such an essential part of the choreography, it deserves much more attention than it is usually given; under no circumstances should it be used as a purely functional afterthought.

To give another example: there were some sections in “Warp/Marble” in which the only light-source was a gigantic spotlight rotating around the stage. It had to be pushed by the dancers to start rotating, and during its course a section of the choreography was lost in darkness. It looked like a rather hot piece of machinery too (hopefully the dancers didn't burn their fingers!). In order to explore the possibilities of light as a choreographic element, one has to take risks.

"OK, so we know about the lights and stuff ..." I can hear you thinking. "What about the movements? The dance? She is after all a choreographer isn't she?"   Mere razzle-dazzle certainly isn’t enough to keep this cat interested. Let's move on to the choreography.

”Solo v. 5.0” (a 2001 recording of which was shown on video) and “Karpp...?” (which was performed live) are so much more academic than any of the works I had seen for Scapino. May I use the word "conformist"? Or maybe the term "polite"? I actually wondered whether I would have bothered had I seen these first. Yet this was undeniably Linning. The bouncy movements, the will to complexity, the use of voice-calls to synchronize the dancers, the all-around gazing, the almost-backwards fall with the slapstick propeller-like swinging of the arms... all these were married to the thorough use of space, the rigidly academic scissor-like legs and arms.

It was curious but recognizable. Yet something was just not right about it. I thought: "OK, we have a stage with two girls... and a whole lot of empty space around them! Just these two girls? So, where are the rest?" I realized what was going on. Being used to a huge stage full of Scapino dancers, “Karpp...?” felt rather naked. In my recollection, a Linning work requires multiple voices. Maybe there were people who had seen the solo works first; to them the Scapino works must have seemed rather dense and possibly even way too crowded. I however was used to seeing a packed house. I recalled one part in “Lighthouse” choreographed for Scapino.  In my mind’s eye I saw dancers all over the stage, all spaces occupied. Nevertheless, even within such density, Linning managed to send one lone ballerina to claim the unused space, dancing a maze-like pattern through whatever little parts of emptiness were left uncovered. Such a quantitative drop from a full stage to a mere two dancers was rather weird to me.

I wondered why she felt the need to fill the stage with dancers while choreographing for Scapino. Maybe she felt the need to make a strong statement, with a literally big gesture to establish herself as a choreographer who could put the whole ensemble to work. Or maybe she felt more confident experimenting with more dancers since Wubbe had made it clear that he trusted her artistic vision.
Or maybe she choreographs differently for women. “Warp/Marble” has three men joining the two women who danced in Karpp...?, but was more unisex in the movements assigned to male and female dancers; this included some simulated lifts (girl supporting male).

”Warp/Marble” was rather theatrical compared to the toned-down “Solo v. 5.0” and “Karpp...?” Certainly it was the most humorous Linning piece I have seen so far. First of all I want to mention Javier Velazquez's role in this piece because he did a good job playing the mental patient. Sometimes spastic, sometimes autistically staring away at absolutely nothing, sometimes infatuated with a certain movement, repeating it incessantly and causing the other two male dancers to laugh nervously at his silly act - which promptly subjected them to something that looked like electroshock treatment, administered by the girls.

Later on, the girls were simulating teleworkers. The RSI-inducing movements were painful to watch. Having no actual desk and computer to work with and simulating the moments in the air, the girls looked rather awkward and ridiculous.

Poor Velazquez eventually became a zombie at the mercy of a Mad Scientist type (danced by Mirjam Ter Linden). She extracted his knee and used it for a mouse, and then she extracted his brain to be used as a microchip. Rather than brining Frankenstein to life, Velazquez became a brainless robot/zombie. Mad Scientist Ter Linden climbed on top of a male dancer while sidekick female dancer Iris Reyes joined her on top of another male. Together they remote-controlled the robo-zombie, hitting imaginary buttons in the air to the bleeps of the (frankly horrible) Sakamoto soundtrack.

At this point their button-pushing gestures were clearly following the bleeps of the music, and it is moment like this that I can’t believe Linning's statement that she doesn't choreograph to the music. In this part, the choreography was clearly not separate from the soundtrack. I can only hope that next time she will borrow some of Ed Wubbe's CDs to pick a soundtrack from. Considering his taste in music, she might find something better than the garlic-and-chocolate bleeps and bumps of this Sakamoto track (pity really, because he has made much better music than this).

Or, maybe she can ask long-time collaborator and composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis to think of something. After all, he provided two of his beautiful string-quartets for “Karpp…?” I actually saw (and heard) their latest co-work, a music theatre (i.e. non-dance) piece called “The Conspiracy” in December of 2003. The scenery Flash-movie (by Jeff beukema) was possibly inspired by 1940s suspense thriller films; the eerie animations of doors, windows and different pieces of furniture were particularly reminiscent of the gigantic doors in the 1948 film “Secret Beyond the Door”. I will not discuss “The Conspiracy” here, but I am happy to see their collaboration solidify. “Karpp…?” will go on tour again in December of 2004 (during which the two quartets will be performed live), and there is another Scapino ballet in the making.

I don't think that Ninning was making fun of psychiatric patients, but rather of the mental health-workers, the ones who are behaving incredibly absurd and ridiculous while trying to "cure" these poor beings. Oftentimes, the psychiatrists would gaze into a patient's eye and would quickly retract in a bunny-like manner as if they were curious yet incredibly scared at the same time. Maybe these workers should move away from their computers and attend some of their own fear-management classes. But I guess they’d much rather prefer dance-therapy…

Edited by Jeff.

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