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ITs (International Theatre School) Festival - Dancemix

'Something not wrong with 3', 'inBEtween', 'Foggest'

ITs last picture show

by Maria Technosux

June 21, 2004 -- Amsterdam

ITs is one of my favourite festivals here in Amsterdam. Though not specifically a dance-festival, it does have a lot of dance, and I get a chance to see the dancers and the dances I'd otherwise not see. This is the new blood, the pre-graduate students giving it all they've got. Needless to say, their adolescent enthusiasm is electrifying. I wish that established dance-groups would dance with the enthusiasm of these kids. Oh the youth!

Unfortunately, the future of this festival was on the balance this year. Money became a problem, as ITs lost a good chunk of their budget due to the withdrawal of arts funding - Holland has a conservative government once again and groups/venues are losing funds left and right.

Yet despite the face-slapping rejection from the Arts Council, they did manage to stage the festival. Going through their list of "financial sources"(mostly governmental funds) and "material sources" (mostly private/commercial sponsors), it seems that they scraped together whatever they could get from anyone and everyone willing to give them something.

Several ITs organizers joked about this rejection in the ITs festival magazine. "Who will you bring along to the ITs festival?" they were asked. "The Amsterdam Arts Council!" said Theu Boermans "To show them how important this festival is", while Steven Peters would bring along: "Hannah Belliot (alderman of Amsterdam) and Winnie Sorgdrager (head of the Arts Council)".

This same disappointment was voiced even in the editorial in the ITs magazine:

ITs is clearly moving forward: increasing numbers of spectators each year, making that deliberate choice for quality over quantity and the path breaking new initiatives. It is really unfortunate that current advisory committees to authorities do not agree with these developments, so that the future of ITs must hang in the balance. But hey, swing is our thing and ITs will not be daunted into passivity.

This budget-slashing experience has left them shell-shocked I guess. The "sell-yourself" atmosphere is more pervasive this year, and it somewhat dampens the festival vibe. I guess that's why I prefer watching P.A.R.T.S. rather than the Dutch kids; because, being a Belgian school, P.A.R.T.S. aren't here to sell themselves. Unfortunately, as we will see later, some of the P.A.R.T.S. dancers have taken this opportunity at unmarketability to extremes, creating inaccessible works. There will however be a Belgian version of ITs, so they will get their chance to stage their own Belgian cultural supermarket in their own capital of Brussels.

Quoting from the ITs magazine again: "To many young theatre makers [ITs festival] is the place to float their professional careers.". The opposite is also true, unfortunately. For a whole lot of kids (I'd even hazard a guess that this is a majority) performing here, their graduation project will be their last opportunity to perform on a proper stage and receive exposure. The emphasized need to "sell-yourself" thus becomes clear. The comment on "making that deliberate choice for quality over quantity" refers to the fact that what we are seeing here is a digest, pre-selected by the ITs festival advisory committee. This means that the first disposal of superfluous talent has already taken place.

I am watching these kids with a melancholic sense of nostalgia coming up in the back of my tongue. Some of these kids are just too expressive, too unique, too surprising, too provocative, too alienating, too sensitive, and – for a lot of the female dancers - too voluptuous for their own good; they are literally an excess and you can tell that they will not get a place within established stage-groups. ITs aren't the only ones who have lost their subsidies. Even The Dutch National Ballet lost a good part of theirs. ITs is the last spectacle these kids will perform in, their supernova burst before they are plunged into the dull and gray economic reality of "surplus" or "demand and supply". A surplus of oddballs, however creative, is never "on demand".

Quoting from my flyer of this evening: "This dance-mix has been assembled by the commission of Dance programmers of the ITs festival, and not by the participating academies". I have no idea why ITs felt the need to stress this fact in the flyer. Maybe in order to underline once again that what we were seeing was pre-selected? Whatever.

The first choreography, "Something not wrong with 3", was also my favourite. I have never heard of the choreographer - Inari Salmivaari (School voor Nieuwe Dansontwikkeling, Amsterdam) - but this choreography was definitely my thing and I really hope that I am wrong about this being his supernova explosion into obscurity.

Three dancers in everyday 21st century urban clothes and sneakers dance on a red stage and occasionally sit on chairs, playing with a mobile phone; a great way to remind the audience to turn off theirs! A red-headed ice queen of a ballerina in a white shirt and white pants, a lanky nerd in loose fitting easy-going clothes, and an Asian dancer in sheer black who was actually wearing spectacles. Yet this wasn't Robbins' “The Concert” with the nerdy ballerina. The Asian guy rolled over the floor, spectacles and all, and moved around like he was having seizures. Isn't that a dangerous thing to do with spectacles on?

The music started and immediately I recognized it. "Oh no!" I thought "It's the same awful Sakamoto soundtrack that Nanine Linning used in Warp/Marble!" It's the most tuneless, incomprehensible music, a blur of poorly recorded bleeps, peeps and sounds from the shortwave radio. And yet, the music fit the movement. In fact, the movement was so sensible that it sort of complemented the incomprehensibility of the soundtrack. Fortunately it wasn't the only music used; the dissonant violin piece was particularly beautiful.

I'd like to write an article once about the incorporation of pathological movements into western dance, referring Foucault, the anti-psychiatry school and the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", the romaticisized idea of the mad man as the only truly sane person left in modern societies. "Pathological movements" meaning: neurotic ticks, spasms, shakes, shudders, shivers and seizures, seemingly random and uncontrolled. I suspect that this type of movement had found its way into the dance art via expressionism, and was later "normalized" into the contemporary ballet idiom by Forsythe (whose use of such movements is primarily formal) and Ohad Naharin (whose use is primarily expressive).

Salmivaari's choreography walks the fine line between the Forsythe and the Naharin approach to pathological moments; I really can't tell at this point which of the two choreographers Inari Salmivaari would consider him/herself closest to. The part of the choreography with all three dancers having seizures seemed purely random at first, but it became clear that the movements were all premeditated and that the dancers were repeating the same move over and over with just minor variations. The repetition of such tense movements exhausted them, and the subsequent part of the choreography was watching 3 dancers on their chairs just breathing heavily.

The choreography was about the subject versus object binary. I overheard the Asian guy saying that the spasms were supposed to represent the dancer as an object. This made sense, because the subsequent section with us watching the exhausted dancers just sitting there, emphasized the subjectivity of the dancers by displaying their fatigue. It was particularly pleasurable to watch the ice queen ballerina with the serious frown shake and shudder her way through the mid-part, slowly melting into a sweating, breathing dancer. A fine example of what ex-L3HS dancer Rick Gavin Tjia must have meant when he said: "When you're that fatigued, after dancing for half an hour straight, you don't have any energy to keep up social barriers."

The second choreography, "inBEtween" by Kathinka Walter, was danced by the students of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, haling from Leeds in the United Kingdom. Pretty, but it wasn't really my thing. It was just too much Virginia Woolf, a sort of Tanztheater without the drama and the dirt. The clever use of darkness and green lights made it somewhat gloomy and mysterious but not very captivating. Compared to the first piece we had seen, this was also quite short and over before you knew it.

The last choreography was "Foggest" by Josefine Olsson of the Fontys Danceacademy of Tilburg(NL). It was announced as a modern piece in the forest, but I saw no forest and not much modern movement either. A shadowy pattern was projected onto the gray screen in the back, but this looked more like the insides of a corral reef rather than a forest. Several people around me were laughing, and unfortunately I think I know why. The cute blond dancer with the dreadlocks lying on the floor just screamed "I love Louise Lecavalier" at us. It is a tedious comparison to make, but unfortunately that's what a blond dreadlocked hairdo is bound to signal these days.

Some of the poses they took on the floor suggested yoga positions; this could be a Graham influence. It did have a few Graham spirals: first a turn with the head, then the torso following the head in a semi-turn. That was nice, I don't get to see those spirals very often.

Accordingly, the choreography was quite dynamic with a lot of hit-the-floor and roll-at-the-last-moment type of jumps and floor dives. In this particular type of jump, it’s not the momentum spent in the air that is meant to cause awe, but rather the violent impact with the floor, when the dancer rolls way without a scratch or a broken bone and keeps on dancing. I had seen some choreographies from the Fontys academy before at last year's ITs presentation, and I would now say that they are really fond of such stunt-master type of falls and jumps. Personally I was thinking of a distinctly more accessible version of Rosas to a Plasticman techno beat. The two girls who danced this piece were smiling at the end, and you could tell that they themselves were glad with their performance, enjoying the use of their bodies to their fullest capacity.

*Dancemix: Amsterdam, Leeds(UK), Tilburg, 21 June 2004, Theater de Engelenbak, Amsterdam*

Edited by Jeff.

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