CriticalDance Forum

Venice Dance Biennale - 2006
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Author:  Rosella [ Wed May 17, 2006 2:03 am ]
Post subject:  Venice Dance Biennale - 2006

The fourth Dance festival held at the Venice Biennale promises to be innovative and exciting. The title for this festival is "Under Skin" and it has been organised and created by Ismael Ivo who was artistic director of the festival last year. Its focus will be the relationship between dance and science with performances by Ivo himself who will present the premiere of his latest work "Illuminata", Random Dance Company, Takao Kawaguchi and many more.

The festival runs from June 8th to 25th and it opens with a three days symbposium where experts from different fields will talk and discuss about the topic of the festival. There will also be an exhibition dedicated to the figure of Aurel Milloss and two workshops. For more details see the website:

Author:  Rosella [ Wed May 31, 2006 3:10 am ]
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Here is the link to the site of the Fondazione Cini, where the exhibition on Aurel Milloss will be opened on June 8th. The exhibition is set to celebrate the centenary of Milloss's birth and it is particularly rich in material with sketches, photographs, books and videos. Interestingly this material was donated by Milloss himself to the Fondazione before his death... ... dmostre=59

Author:  Rosella [ Mon Jun 12, 2006 1:50 am ]
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I have returned from Venice yesterday evening, I spent a few days there, I was at the interesting symposium and I have been to three performances, one by Ismael Ivo, the artistic director of the Biennale who created a very complex piece on death, another by Takao Kawaguchi inspired by heart beat and the third one inserted in the symposium itself by Min Tanaka. This last one was certainly the most intense and powerful...

Author:  Rosella [ Sat Jun 17, 2006 7:51 am ]
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9th, 10th, 11th June, 2006, Teatro Piccolo Arsenale, Venice

“Dance tries to reach a body momentum to become art”, says choreographer and dancer Ismael Ivo, for the second consecutive year artistic director of Venice Dance Biennale and its International Contemporary Dance Festival, an innovative festival that challenges the common notions connected with body and dancing. The actual Festival had its debut with the premiere of Ismael Ivo’s latest work on death “Illuminata”. Among the other choreographers and dancers, there are Takao Kawaguchi, the Istanbul Dance Theatre, Random Dance, Almatanz, Balletto Teatro di Torino and ACCCA, that is Sadler’s Wells Company of Elders.

This year the Festival focus was on issues regarding the body and what is under the dancing body, in anatomical, emotional, inspirational terms. The festival opened with a three days symposium where experts and performers from different fields investigated the relationship between body, soul and science. The title of the festival, Underskin, was particularly effective and the image chosen to represent it was that of butoh dancer Ko Murobushi in his latest piece “Quick Silver”, where he is bent down with his face touching his knees and his skin is painted of a dark colour. As Ivo says “let us attempt to break into the obscure and try to investigate physical images, organic bodies, inspiration and creative/spiritual needs”. In this sense experts from as diverse fields as dance, maths, medicine, cinema, visual art, performance and shamanism presented their own perspective on the topic, thus widening the idea we have of the body in relation to movement and dance. In addition to that during the symposium, some dancers and choreographers like Min Tanaka and Niels “Storm” Robitzki were asked to express their viewpoint through a performance. The main topic was divided into six sub-topics, two for each day of the symposium, with special attention paid to the body in science, faith, religion, illness, morbidity, sex, eroticism and the maturity of eternal youth.

For example mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi on Friday 9th made an interesting excursus on the recurrent human attempt to create and construct artificial creatures and /or simulate human intelligence. He talked about the eighteenth century construction of mechanical animals and of literary examples such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and the fantasy fiction of Isaac Asimov and Philip Dick. In particular he insisted on the myth of sculptor Pygmalion, who built his own woman and asked Love goddess Venus to transform her into a flesh and blood creature. “This myth”, he stated “has been reworked by information technology experts who tried to simulate human thought”. It is the principle at the base of computers. Interestingly, as he added, this myth has also inspired writer E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” on which famous ballet “Coppélia” is based.

After this, a completely different contribution was give by shaman and ecstatic dance specialist Hiah Park who showed a video of one of her rituals where dance plays a fundamental part. Dance for her is a “medium for healing”, a medium through which she establishes a contact between people and their souls. She directly acts from soul to soul to cleanse people from their pains and problems. After the video she talked about her personal experience as a shaman, her tradition and initiation. She belongs to a particular kind of Korean shamans called ‘mudang’ who, as she stated, are called to their “profession by mystical illness, known as ‘sinbyong’ and” are initiated in ‘naerimkut’, “a ceremony which resolves” their “suffering by enshrining the possessing Spirit into” their body. It is through dance that she became aware of her own power as shaman and as she stated, when she dances she is no longer “solid”, but “waves of movement”. Furthermore, in Korea female shamans are the majority and they break “all the traditional rules and stereotypes”, thus liberating women from “the very repressive Confucian society”.

Park’s lecture was welcomed as a radical shift where dance is perceived as an ecstatic experience. Some people looked quite sceptical, but this was part of the diverse fields the speakers were coming from, fields which were not always familiar to the audience. Park’s lecture was in a way connected with that presented on Sunday 11th by doctor and choreographer Dietmar Seiffret, who worked with ballet dancer and son Gregor to create a piece on Nijinsky’s insanity. Again in this case the focus was on an altered state of mind but taken from a more structured and rational viewpoint. Seiffert studied in depth the aspects of schizophrenia and he created the piece together with his son’s suggestions. The result was showed in a video recording of the performance, titled “Clown of God”. Set to the score of Stavinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, the choreography has no set and it opens with a close-up on Gregor’s body. He is seated with his head down. Soon his movements are articulated according to a-symmetric and distorted moves in conjunction with perfectly performed pirouettes and ballet steps as, according to Seiffret, during his illness Nijinsky must have had some moments of lucidity where he remembered his enormous skill as dancer.

A quite disturbing subject was approached by film director Lynne Stopkewich on Saturday 10th when she talked about necrophilia and her controversial 1996 film “Kissed”. Based on one of Barbara Gowdy’s short stories and inspired by a real event, the film rotates around the figure of Sandra Larson and her fascination with death since childhood. Once a woman, Larson develops a sexual need to relate with death bodies and she performs some ritual movements like dancing in circle around the corpse before making love to him. Her boyfriend, jealous of her addiction, finally commits suicide to have her all for himself. In spite of the taboo subject, the film, which was then showed, attempts to draw an intimate portrait of the protagonist without incurring in a pervert enquiring look. When the moderator of the afternoon, film critic Gianni Canova, asked the reason for the title, Stopkewich said that she was fascinated by the idea of kissing associated with death. She also added that in a way it is the protagonist who is being kissed and is given life by the corpse.

The afternoon proceeded with an enchanting performance by acclaimed butoh dancer Min Tanaka. The title was “Dance of the Organs”, Tanaka entered from stage back and very slowly walked towards the proscenium. He was wearing a greyish kimono, a red mask on his face and a hat. His body control was absolute, especially within his very slow movements. He moved his hands carefully, taking the sleeves of his kimono and lifting them. After taking off his mask and hat, he sat on the stage and kept on moving his hands together with his eyes and face. He ended his stunning performance standing on the proscenium and taking a bow towards the audience.

The day after, on Sunday 11th, he again performed a series of improvised movements in the context of a ‘duologue’, a new way to have two people relate to each other designed by the Festival organisers. In this case it was between Tanaka and dance scholar Stefano Tomassini who were asked to work on the topic “the maturity of eternal youth”. Tomassini presented a brief lecture-homage to Ted Shawn and his 1924 solo “Death of Adonis” alternated with Tanaka’s improvisations based on key words such as ‘maturity eternal youth’ and ‘perfection imperfection’. It was very exciting as it presented two different perspectives cohabiting in perfect harmony. After this intense event, Tomassini asked a few questions to Tanaka about his dance approach. Tanaka talked of what Tatsumi Hijikata had once told him: “You can dance without using the muscle, but using the organs”. Since then he has been working with his body, trying to find what he poetically terms “the seed of movement”.

Many other experts presented interesting insights on the proposed issues. Among them there was visual art and performance scholar Francesca Alfano Miglietti, dance critic and writer Roger Salas, doctor Sonya Babu-Narayan, dancer and choreographer Wayne Mc Gregor, film director Matteo Garrone and dance critic Elisa Guzzo Vaccarino. Ismael Ivo’s intention to stimulate unusual reflections on the connection between body, soul and science was successful, inspiring and sometimes unexpected. However, the choice to have different moderators during each section compromised the continuity of the discourse with the result of having some of the experts using too technical terms and be confined to their own discipline. Furthermore, there was a lack of language coordination. On the one hand the foreign speakers were accurately translated into Italian for the audience, but on the other hand nobody was translating them what was being said when they were listening to their Italian colleagues or to those who spoke a different language from theirs. This fact inhibited a potentially fertile debate and prevented a fruitful discussion from taking place.

Author:  Rosella [ Mon Jun 19, 2006 5:22 am ]
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In order for me to be precise I need to specify that at the symposium there was a written verison of the papers presented and it was both in Italian and English. Still, I think it was not enough for the foreign guests to grasp what was being said, especially if we take into consideration that in some cases it was just a summary. In other cases, the speakers were not reading their paper and they made digressions or quite a different lecture from that presented in the first place.

Author:  Rosella [ Fri Jun 23, 2006 10:28 am ]
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Another interesting video projection was that presented by Elisa Guzzo Vaccarino who showed some fragments from pieces danced by, among others, Carolyn Carlson, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Pina Bausch's mature dancers in her reworking of her 1978 "Kontakthof". Guzzo Vaccarino briefly talked about dancing in the third age and how the age limit for a dancer has moved forward, thus unveiling new creative possibilities for the aged body.

Author:  Rosella [ Sun Jun 25, 2006 12:24 pm ]
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10th June 2006, Teatro alle Tese, Venice

Ismael Ivo’s latest work, “Illuminata”, presented at the 4th International Venice Dance Biennale Festival, is a very complex piece on a taboo subject, death, and on a pathway that through darkness leads to light, as the title, meaning “enlightened”, suggests. It is a production supported by Fondazione Teatro Comunale of Bolzano in collaboration with Venice Biennale and Cena Cultural Produções. It guides the audience through another world, a world of darkness and light, “past and present, dream and reality”.

After entering the Teatro alle Tese, the audience is in fact totally alienated as the theatre is in complete darkness, except for the stage. There are three or four white dressed men indicating the right direction with some torches, but it does not help much. Once seated the alienation continues as one faces the stage and finds out his/her image is reflected on a large mirror covering the whole back stage. In a way it is quite weird as we cannot see each other but we can see each other’s faces in the mirror as the stage has some lights on. This device suddenly makes sense when one reads what Ivo writes in the programme: “It does not matter how often we try to imagine it, but with death we are mere spectators”.

Ivo is renowned for these disturbing themes. Born in São Paulo, he studied dance in Brasil to then enter the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre first as student then as dancer. Subsequently he moved to Germany where he continued to study and create his own work made, most of all, of solo pieces. Among them there are “Artaud, Artaud!” created in 1984 and “Francis Bacon” in 1993, both a success and both characterised by controversial moments. As his long time collaborator Johannes Odenthal highlights, Ivo is interested in “the ritual aspect of theatre and he brings back the body at the centre of the scene”. In particular, he is interested in the racial issue which has changed and taken different perspectives during his experience in São Paulo, New York and Berlin. One example is a solo he choreographed and performed in 2002, “Mapplethorpe”, which focused on the stereotypes surrounding the male black body as an erotic object of desire. The choice of death as subject for a group piece in a way reflects some of these questions and it provides the audience with elements of surprise, beginning with the employment of the large mirror.

“Illuminata” opens with Ivo’s semi-naked black body lying on a mattress made of a bluish material that looks like ice. Ivo’s voice resounds on stage, it is a recorded message that speaks of a car accident he had and on the trauma it caused him. In that occasion, as he affirms, he saw death in the eyes. The dancing begins. He arches his back, he moves, he stands up and then collapses onto the mattress. These movements have been inspired by reanimation techniques employed during emergencies. More lights go on and four men enter the stage, they all wear the same white suit adorned with white feathers. They are the members of the crystal d company and they have a microphone which amplifies their breathing. They move each in his own way, either standing in place or running on the proscenium and into the stalls.

All the dancers undress and remain in their white underwear dancing convoluted movements. In particular one of them begins a duet with Ivo, a duet which reaches its climax with an intense and prolonged hug. This is the result of a movement study Ivo did on the process of separation between Siamese twin sisters. The other dancers also perform some movements in pairs. Then a turning point takes place. Over the stage there is a set of 55 bags full of black sand. One of them is opened and the sand falls on Ivo. The lighting changes and one single spot is directed from above towards him. It is a very dramatic effect, he stands receiving the sand shower, opens his mouth to ‘drink’ some of it and seems empowered by this event. The sand seem to resemble the ashes and in a way death itself. Its dark colour creates a sharp contrast with the dominant white of the costumes. Soon all the bags are opened and the stage is transformed into a Japanese garden, as it is called in the programme. The dancers, all dirtied by the sand showers take away the bags that have subsequently fallen from the ceiling and dance a series of phrases in front of the mirror. Then Ivo remains alone on stage and again another element of surprise is adopted.

The large mirror is moved up, we as the audience disappear from the stage space and the mirror reflects the stage from above, with Ivo seated on the sand. Even when he stands still, or he is in a corner while the other dancers move centre stage, his presence fills the space and is like a magnet for the audience’s attention. Behind the mirror there is the Accademia Neue Musik Bolzano orchestra which, a part from the silent beginning, has been playing live the music composed by Arnaldo De Felice. A woman in a white long dress enters the stage, she is soprano Sylvia Nopper, who sings a beautiful song. Ivo walks around her drawing circles on the sandy stage. When she leaves the other dancers return and they begin to move around the members of the orchestra who have left their place to enter the stage as well. The end is characterised by Ivo and the soprano alone looking at each other standing centre stage.

Is she the embodiment of light as opposed to darkness? Is she the (vocal and chromatic) energy set to give Ivo back his life after his terrible accident? Maybe. “Illuminata” is a very powerful piece especially because it questions many ‘codes’ characterising a performance, such as the use of the large mirror to reflect both audience and dancers, the interaction between dancers and musicians, the use of microphones to amplify the dancers’ breathing and so on. Its theme, death, is carefully analysed with stimulating ideas, the most spectacular of which is certainly the sand showers. The use of dichotomous ideas, such as light and darkness, white and black, dream and reality, although a bit obvious and obsolete, are reinvented according to a fresh perspective. However, due to these ‘special effects’, the choreography lacks cohesion and the dancing is in too many occasions compromised in favour of an unexpected change in the set design.

Author:  Rosella [ Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:51 am ]
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9th June 2006, Tese delle Vergini, Venice

The Tese delle Vergini theatre is a small space created inside the big complex of the old Arsenal buildings, refurbished in recent years to offer new sites for the International Venice Dance Biennale Festival, which this year inaugurated its fourth season. The distance between the entrance of the Arsenal and the theatre is quite big and a long walk is necessary for the audience to arrive at destination. A walk through the alleys and watery canals barely illuminated by candles and small lights. Once entered, we find the stage surrounded on three sides by four row of white chairs. Centre stage there is a table, nearby a bunch of bulbs hanging from a rope fixed on the ceiling, on the side not surrounded by chairs there is a screen and some instruments such as an electric guitar and a drum. There are not many seats and the theatre gets full quite quickly, there is also Ismale Ivo attending the performance. Ivo has been confirmed this year as artistic director of the Dance Biennale which is dedicated to exploring the relationship between science, body and soul.

In this sense, Takao Kawaguchi’s work is particularly pertinent as it is inspired by the interaction between breathing, muscles and heartbeat. “The title “D.D.D.” evokes the sound of heartbeat” and it is seen in conjunction with terms like “drop, dead, drug, decay, destruction”. At the same time, Kawaguchi underlines how the repetition of the same sound can also be “slightly comical”. The table represents a dissection table as well as a ring where the limits of one’s own body are challenged and, in some cases, pushed to comical effects. The idea of rounds and of a costume resembling a wrestling fighter with a white mask and white vest and pants, contribute to this latter effect. In this performance Kawaguchi is helped by artist, vocalist, musician and improviser Fuyuki Yamakawa who has a microphone attached to his own heart, so that, together with his electric guitar, drum and vocal sessions, we listen to his own heartbeat.

Kawaguchi’s performance is characterised by jumps and runs in and out the stage alternated with poses he articulates on the table-ring, poses where his limbs are joined together in unusual manners. In a pose he joins his hands on his back and tries to move with his bent legs on the small table. He contorts in a delicate balance pushing his body towards more and more difficult positions. At one stage Kawaguchi leaves the stage and Yamakawa gives a kind of brief lecture on the heart through the use of schemes and statistics presented through the overhead projector. The end brings some more humour in the piece. Kawaguchi completely naked lies on the table, soon some water will pass through a tiny tube which is placed over the table-ring and which will fall onto Kawaguchi’s body. Yamakawa creates a crescendo by repeatedly saying “It’s coming” and the audience in the first rows is given plastic cloths to avoid getting wet. The water falls down and Kawaguchi’s body gets all wet and lucid, he keeps moving for a little while to then end the performance and leave the stage among an enthusiastic applause.

It was an interesting event where humour and dance were nicely balanced. Of particular effect were the musical sessions by long haired Yamakawa and the lights design by Satoru Takano. In one instance the complete darkness was broken by a single ray of light which formed a perfect diagonal line through the table-ring. In another the bunch of bulbs were turned on intermittently as to evoke, once again, the heartbeat.

Author:  Rosella [ Thu Aug 03, 2006 4:04 am ]
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10th June 2006, Palazzo Cini Gallery, Venice

Aurel Milloss (1906-1988) represents a key figure in Italian dance history. Born in Hungary, he studied with Rudolf Laban and Enrico Cecchetti, and he created his own style combining classical dance with expressionist dance, also known as Ausdruckstanz. When he was called to direct the Royal Opera Theatre in Rome in the late 1930s, the status of dance was quite low and the taste of the audience quite old fashioned. With his charisma and high professional figure he managed to reform ballet and give dance a proper role within the Italian panorama. In the anniversary of his birth, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini has organised an exhibition in Venice to celebrate his figure, titled “Homage to Aurel Milloss”. The curator Maria Ida Biggi with the collaboration of Linda Selmin arranged a series of documents, photographs, sketches and rare books according to three main sections. One centred on his formative years in Germany, another one on his permanence in Venice and on the works connected with that period, and the third one dedicated to the rare material from his personal library.

Significantly the poster of the exhibition features Milloss as the Marvellous Mandarin, a character he interpreted and created with great success. His rapacious hands, his evil eyes and his costume, designed by Futurist artist Prampolini and characterised by shiny black satin adorned with lateral curling yellow motifs, turned Milloss into a devilish creature. “The Marvellous Mandarin” (1942), with music by Béla Bartók and set by Prampolini was inspired by Melchior Lengyel’s homonymous tale and it is the dark story of a Girl who is forced to prostitute herself by three Gangsters. When she approaches a Mandarin, whose heart is barren and stingy, her seductive power awakens an unexpected energy in him. The three Gangsters rob him and try to kill him in different manners until they fatally wound him. Before he dies the Girl approaches him and he manages to touch her, thus dying in peace. Apart from the dancing movements characterising the Gangsters and the Girl, those created for the Mandarin are the most interesting. As dance scholar Patrizia Veroli explains, Milloss, “showed that he could compress…his body that was quite tall (more than a metre and eighty centimetres tall) into the angular…dimension of a horrible insect”. This was his most intense dramatic performance as dancer and, according to him, even during the moments of stillness, the Mandarin had to be disturbing and threatening.

The first section of the exhibition presents several interesting photographs. One features Milloss improvising with a group of other students at the Laban school. He considered Laban to be his true master and always paid a great respect to his work and theories. He also restaged “Gaukelei”, one of Laban’s pieces and Laban himself was quite grateful as is shown by a dedication he wrote to Milloss in one of his books. There are also photos of his first important pieces such as his adaptation of “Petrouchka” and “Coppélia”. He was particularly good in dark and grotesque roles, that is why in his Coppélia, dr Coppelius plays a much more important role than in the St Léon’s version. In the recreation he made in 1939, he chose to stage four Coppelius that would circle Swanilda, “a motif , this of the clones, of great spectacular impact, but of difficult realisation, because it implied the employment of dancers with physical characteristics and mimic peculiarities identical to his [Milloss’s]”, Patrizia Veroli highlights.

The second section of the exhibition is the largest. Milloss had a deep relationship with the city of Venice and between 1939 and 1977 he presented several performances there. That is why he also donated his personal library to the Fondazione Cini that has created a special archive dedicated to the Hungarian dance master. In this section there is a series of beautiful sketches by artists such as Renato Guttuso, Felice Casorati and Enrico Paulucci for his work, be it an opera or a ballet. Together with his intense activity as dancer and choreographer he was also director of some operas such as “Idomeneo, king of Crete”. Among the pieces he presented in Venice, “Marsia” (1948) is maybe the most relevant. Born out of Milloss’s fruitful collaboration with composer Dallapiccola, this ballet is based on the Greek myth of Marsia, who, after discovering the sound of music, accepts to measure his ability to play the flute against that of god Apollo. He loses and Apollo has him flayed and transformed into a river. In this story Milloss saw the abuse of gift and what the abuse can bring to. The beautiful sketches for this ballet are from artist Toti Scajola and they show a big sunlike shape divided in the middle by a diagonal line. There is also the poster from the premiere and a some letters between Dallapiccola and Milloss on the genesis of the work.

The third section presents some rare books and documents belonging to Milloss’s library. Among the books there is one by Curt Sachs who was his teacher, another one by Fritz Böhme who appreciated Milloss’s work, a book by Laban and two rare XVIII century books respectively by Feuillet and Pécour. As it is clear from the video interview introducing this section, Milloss dedicated great part of his studies to dance theory and history. He was not only an extraordinary dancer and choreographer, he also often wrote about dance in articles published in Italy and abroad and because of his recognised competence as historian and scholar, at the end of the 1940s he was asked to work at the dance section of the monumental Enciclopedia dello spettacolo [Performance Encyclopaedia] promoted by theatre critic Silvio D’Amico.

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