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Lublin Festival November 2009 - reviews in English
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:31 am ]
Post subject:  Lublin Festival November 2009 - reviews in English

“Blue Pigs” (Compagnie Drift, Au bleu cochon)

by Regina Lissowska

The action takes place at a bar called – as the title suggests – “The Blue Pig.” Against the background of glistening pieces of glass we can spot metal structures of a counter, a table, a bench, and a balcony decorated with deer antlers. In the corner there is an igloo, misplaced and inharmonious, colored with gaudy colors. A screen is hung above the igloo, presenting two men disguised as rabbits, unhurriedly kicking a ball. A seemingly typical pub, though its reality is disturbingly exaggerated. The initial scene is simple, featuring a meeting of six strangers in a bar. They all come to the bar driven by loneliness, each of them arriving with a different idea of closeness. The clash of these differences activates the machinery of social conventions. Here, however, ordinariness ends, because the mechanism, once activated, propels itself in its own right, redirecting the action in the least expected ways.

The group amazes the audience with a penetrating analysis of human modes of behavior. Compagnie Drift is capable of extracting the core of interpersonal relationships and translating it into the code of proxemics. The dancers perfectly utilize this matter, retaining lightness and charm at the same time. By reworking and rearranging conventions present in everyday life, they make use of their most amazing manifestations. Au Bleu Cochon ceaselessly balances the thin line dividing reality from the absurd. In an inconspicuous conversation of two men, a handshake transforms their bodies into a knot which they cannot untie no matter how complex their attempts become. A meeting of a woman and a man is shown as a struggle of two competitors set against each other by their friends, as if they were contestants in the ring. After several failed attempts, their actual meeting turns out to be a failure, a series of intersexual awkwardness. The stunning sequences of processions which comprise the performance, additionally complicate the animalistic features of the characters. Animalism, presented as a second nature of humans which comes to light in such situations, is demonstrated with subtlety, yet it explicitly determines the actions of the characters. The tall, boorish man with a mohawk (Thomas Maucher) is suggestive of a bull. The dancer in black (Vyacheslav Zubkov), desperately trying to establish any meaningful relationship, is reminiscent of a crow, which is stressed by a bird-like pose he takes up, squatting down on an iron banister of the balcony. The skittish and neurotic József Trefeli reminds the viewer of a rabbit. Out of a fur-made igloo comes a coquettish cat (Judith Rohrbach), stroking herself and stretching with feline grace. Her friend (Monica Munoz) evokes images of a goat, alternatively chattering and chewing on clothes (her own and those of other characters). The entire menagerie is observed from a distance by a fox (Marco Volta), sniffing discretely at everyone and everything, thus carefully selecting his prospective company.

Compagnie Drift’s dancers function as a closed circuit of energy, which internally remains in a ceaseless in motion. Each gesture, even the least significant one, initiates an avalanche of interaction. In the midst of the multitude of gestures, the artists maintain perfect composure in their individual roles. Choreography continuously surprises the viewer; precision and clarity of motion combine with humor. A perfectly conceived set design, along with the lights, contribute to the surreal atmosphere. Owing to the diversity of artistic tools, the composition of the performance appears as light, refined, and far from tiresome at any time. In general, though often soaking with the absurd, the performance has the capability to incline the viewer to reflect upon the human nature and the preposterousness of social interactions. These features make up the unique style of Compagnie Drift, thanks to which the group has once again won the Polish audience over this year.

(First published in the “TEATR” monthly, no. 11/2009, as part of article by Regina Lissowska “Po szesnaste – Taniec!” [The Sixteenth Commendment - Dance!)

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Fri Jul 30, 2010 10:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Lublin Festival November 2009 - reviews in English

Twins (Dance Company Pál Frenak: Twins)

By Regina Lissowska

The literary impulse to this performance comes from the novel The Notebook, written by the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof. Kristof touches upon the problem of loneliness which drives the protagonist to shut himself in a fictional world, where he invents an imaginary friend. Pál Frenak emphasized and developed this theme through the solo of the dancer animating the marionette. The choreographer’s further ruminations concerning this thread of the novel brought him to replace the marionette with a dancer. The physical reality of the two dancers on stage made it possible to come up with another interpretation, shifting the emphasis from the relation between humans and images to the particular bond between the twins. The performance attempts to probe this psychological phenomenon and describe it with the language of dance.

It presents us with the twins’ coexistence which, paradoxically, is marked with loneliness since their birth, when one of the twins is born before the other. Though they begin their life journey as two separate beings, their subconscious preserves the memory of their initial unity. The first brother appears on the stage, gliding his way on roller blades, circling around the columns, demarcating orbits which his brother will soon follow. Within this sequence, the brothers pass each other on several occasions prior to their meeting. Finally, they recognize each other. Sitting under the wall screen smeared with thick brushes of white and gray paint, they slowly take off their roller blades. Their bodies are almost identical, and their faces are covered by uniform, tightly fitted white masks.

Slowly, gingerly, they begin to dance together, performing synchronic gestures while sitting next to each other. They move stiffly and incompetently, alternatively pulling in and pushing apart. Within this increasingly obtrusive proximity, their synchrony is gradually dissolved. The brothers’ bodies manifest certain traits of individuality. One of the brothers becomes more active, his motion is decisive and pronounced. The other brother, reduced into defence, confines his actions with each moment.

Their dance ceaselessly changes its character and dynamics. It displays the “dark” side of the brothers’ relationship. It is a reflection of violence and their struggle for domination, visible in dance partnering. It is also a manifestation of enslavement and the impossible escape from the subconscious need of closeness. One of the brothers attempts to break away from this bond, climbing a highly suspended swing. A moment later, he is joined by his brother – his alter ego. Calm ensues, accompanied by an apparent stillness, beneath which a strong emotional suspense is perceptible. It is only alleviated by the joint observation of a fly which draws the entire attention of the brothers. The fascination with the fly and its freedom returns in the final scene, when one of the dancers puts on an insect wing–shaped backpack frame on his shoulders and imitates flight by swift roller-blading.

The performance is interwoven with two fragments featuring a doll – a remnant from the original version. A white, man-sized doll appears on stage, its face resemblant of the masks worn by the brothers. The doll is tied to the body of the actor who operates it. Slowly, solemnly, the doll plays with a glass ball, rotating the it in its hands and rolling it on the flor, following the ball’s movement with its eyes. The doll’s lowered head and losely suspended jaw cause its mouth to move, thus creating an impression of mute whispering. The accompanying incidental music features a nostalgic piano piece which intensifies the mood of the scene.

In the second episode, the doll is a child-sized marionette, operated by an actor walking on stilts. The actor’s long, black costume and his white mask provide a disturbing contrast to the doll’s motion, which is long, naive, such as sitting at the edge of the stage, or waving at the audience.

These scenes do not merely serve the purpose of breaking the ambiance built up by the dance. They also carry the brothers’ relationship to a transcendental level, where they can fully rejoin again. The twins’ attempts to regain unity are doomed to failure. The brothers repeatedly connect and separate, trying with increasing intensity to overcome the physical barrier dividing them. When they wrestle on the floor, their bodies merge in a caricature, two-headed and eight-limbed figure.

Particularly strong in this context seems the sequence by the wall. The audience is presented with one body which is torn into two trunks bending extremely apart. The existence of the twins is a continuous clash of contradictory drives. As separate beings, they are suspended between the impossibility of reaching full unity and establishing a definition of their individuality.

In the brothers’ dance, the viewer may notice some traits of classical ballet, notably manifested when motion freezes into pose. These, however, do not determine the character of choreography, instead introducing balance, softening the strong expression and tension between the dancers, conferring on them the value of an aesthetically conferred image.

The performance created by Pál Frenak does not seem to aim at resolving the problem it touches upon – facing the problem appears to the choreographer as an ongoing process. Perhaps the motif of the wings, as well as the images of soaring seagulls projected on the screen in the final scene, will be expanded in the subsequent work of the Hungarian group.

(First published in "TEATR" monthly as a part of article by Regina Lissowska "Between Inspiration and Interpretation”, no. 2/2010)

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Aug 04, 2010 8:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Lublin Festival November 2009 - reviews in English

The Bitter Spell of Vian (Dada von Bzdülöw: Red Grass)

By Regina Lissowska

It has been the third time for Dada von Bzdülöw to take up Boris Vian in their artistic projects. Having previously alluded to his works in The Heart Wrencher, or the Tub of Shame and Wapiti Versus the Rest of the World, Dada von Bzdülöw’s latest project relates to Vian’s Red Grass.

Red Grass has been inspired by Vian’s eponymous novel, although it is not worth drawing parallels in the plot structure of the performance. Influences reach much deeper, originating in Leszek Bzdyl and Katarzyna Chmielewska’s long-standing fascination with the prose of the French existentialist, whose works have to a certain extent shaped their personalities. Despite their spiritual kinship with Vian, however, Red Grass does not lend itself easily to dance theater. As the artists admit, the spell of Vian is to be found in the language, and to translate it into the dance code turned out to be a tough challenge.

As a result, Dada von Bzdülöw transmits the ambiance of Vian’s novel in a manner entirely free of mimesis. Red Grass allows the audience to experience the novel, filtered through the artists’ feelings and personalities: it appears as a world of entangled sexual relations, sensual colors and flavors, saturated with surrealist mood, profoundly reflexive, though not for a second pompous. It is a bittersweet performance, one that does not want to be received with dead seriousness, demanding instead to be recognized as existing casually here and now.

Everything takes place in a nondescript space. A white checked floor, as well as the wall, are enlivened by colored lights, sometimes reminiscent of an illuminate dance floor, as the one in Saturday Night Fever, sometimes suggestive of hostility and emptiness. The wall is a host to numerous projections, such as a bushy hill, a woman riding a bicycle, an absurd speech of a local politician (featuring a guest appearance by Cezary Rybiński). Other images displayed on the screen include two hairdryers on a stand (which are also used for lobotomy), and four large hot-water bottles, whose potential for taking up bizarre shapes is meticulously utilized.

A game of seduction commences; two men dressed in suits (Leszek Bzdyl, Radek Hewelt), and two women wearing polka-dotted skirts (Katarzyna Chmielewska, Ula Zerek). They sit down in an idyllically pastoral pose, suggestive of Manet’s Breakfast in the Open Air. Perceptible sparks of eroticism are flying between them. By turns, they go through consecutive phases of flirting, using “disco” dance steps, airy spins and hops to move around the floor. Coquettish smiles resemble hooks about to be swallowed... A more intimate meeting begins. One of the two couples remains on the floor, but their dancing changes. The other couple indulges in sensuous cherry eating. Their game is clear and predictable; a seemingly innocent ritual of gazes and gestures with undertones of biological determination. One can sense chemistry between the dancers, heralding a continuation...

Blissful as this courtship is, it is now suddenly snapped, as the differences in sexual attitudes are revealed. Mutual expectations become increasingly blurred, slowly but steadily leading to failure and disillusionment.

This interaction between the feminine and the masculine is observed by another spectator (Tatiana Kamieniecka) – a whole different person, misplaced, moving clumsily and awkwardly. Though she does not lose touch with the ground, she keeps stumbling and faltering. She is naive and callow, yet she desperately seeks closeness. She is a person yet unformed, becoming at times a plaything of the “older” dancers who, driven by momentary interest, roll her among each other.

Characteristic of Dada, the artistic space also incorporates the audience. Bzdyl and Hewelt abandon the stage, now occupied by the monotonously dancing women actors. They both conduct a series of surprising experiments, beginning with standing on their hears and pelting each other with paper shells, and finishing with dressing a randomly chosen member of the audience in a red dress. They keep throwing the audience off balance, disaccustoming them to the usual, passive perception. Several times, they trick the audience into a round of applause by remaining still, pretending the show is over.

A special bow of appreciation should also go to the musical setting. Composed by Mikołaj Trzaska, the score is perfectly united with the dancers’ moves, simultaneously interpreting and co-creating the atmosphere of the performance. Light-hearted banter is accompanied by pulsating, electronic sounds and catchy melodies which, along the intensifying suspense, become interrupted by jazz dissonances.

Dada von Bzdülöw have fully risen to the challenge they took up. Red Grass captivates with a unpretentious interpretation of bitter and painful issues. Its carefully dispensed use of irony is capable of extracting charm from the gloom of existential disasters.

(First published in "TEATR" monthly as a part of article by Regina Lissowska "Between Inspiration and Interpretation”, no. 2/2010)

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Aug 04, 2010 8:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Lublin Festival November 2009 - reviews in English

Gallows Pole (DoTheatre: Hangman)

By Regina Lissowska

Hangman, produced by the Russian-German group DoTheatre, was inspired by the works of Daniel Charms. DoTheatre intended to transform the vision of the world created by the the Russian avant-gardist into a stage work. The performance is to a large extent a compilation of personalities, situations and themes present in Charms’s texts, combined with the figure of the Executioner and the leading theme of wordplay, known in Poland as the gallows pole. DoTheatre’s reworking of Charms’s literature is not limited to a mere “dance quote,” though. The dancers’ activities are constructed in accordance with the writer’s stylistics. The plot is characterized by surprising and irrational turns, where a grotesque literality is intertwined with oneiric moods. The absurd and black humor permeate the performance with existential unease, inducing a reflection upon this irregular game of victims and oppressors.

An inclined figure (Tanya Williams) sits typewriting at a desk near the edge of the stage. The rhythmical typing creates an atmosphere typical of an old-fashioned crime story. The stage is a black and white world made up by newspaper clippings covering the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Three mysterious persons (Alexander Bondarev, Evgeny Kozlov, Irina Kozlova), wearing tail coats and top hats sleep at the desk lit by pale lamplight. The back wall is covered with a number of black plates with letters written on them that jointly make up the word HANGMAN. When the typist finishes typewriting, she folds the sheet of paper and sticks it in a large book which she subsequently throws with a thud amidst the sitting. The game begins.

Three judges – the blind one, the deaf one, and the mute one – decide who the next victim will be. They give orders and argue with one another over the book, so fiercely that the table starts levitating. An inconspicuous figure below the inscription (Julia Tokareva), rearranges the plates with letters, trying to keep up with their contradictory verdicts. Throughout the pantomime, the typist-Executioner constructs a gallows pole at his desk. The game ends with a verdict: THEHAND. The mute one’s hand is nailed to the book, while he himself is jailed underneath the newspaper lampshade made.

The action sparks a whole series of scenes depicting the history of crime by dance and pantomime. At times gruesome, and at times absurd, they are connected by the figure of the demiurge Executioner. Working simultaneously in the represented world an beyond its limits, the Executioner leads his own game in which the dancers merely act as puppets. The characters subject themselves to their destiny as plotted by the Executioner. They undergo endless metamorphoses, incarnating murderers and their victims. The space of events alters, too, changing into a beach, a restaurant, a street, a speakeasy, an office, a court... The atmosphere, through which the viewer interprets the performance, is transformed as well, shifting from comedy to nostalgia, from a pretense of realism to an absurd joke. Thanks to such unconventional props as a suitcase, a table, a set of chairs, or a desk, unexpected effects are obtained.

A top hat with a men’s head inside is drawn from the table by a drunk waiter attending two ladies at the restaurant. The very next moment, the waiter serves them spaghetti from inside the hat. The women consume the meal, unaware that the food is poisoned; the waiter, in league with the proprietor, robs the corpses of their belongings

Four gangsters plan a theft. Their goal is to steal a case of money (which will subsequently serve either to hide the redundant props or to introduce new ones). The harmony among the thieves is momentary and fleeting – in the course of a number of daredevil chases and ever-changing alliances, they eliminate one another in a senseless shooting.

As the letters on the back wall are arranged in another sentence – THEFOOT – the man sleeping at the desk has his feet sawn off by two women.

Apart from the crime stories, enchanting with their use of black humor and flawless execution, scenes of different nature are introduced. Three dancers change the set design into a complete chaos when newspaper clippings stick to their shoes and clothes in a scene of wobbly dancing.

Also memorable is a synchronic dance, whose rhythm and range are delineated by light. Three swinging, lowered book-shaped lamps lead the dancers with their light. These are fluid, tardy lifts and drops, bends of shoulders, soft passages on the floor, among the scraps of torn newspapers, accompanied by the humming of the sea and the rustling of paper floating in the air.

The performance closes with a strongly poetic, symbolic image. The three judges sit motionless at the table. In a streak of light, their heads are gradually covered by narrow streams of sand. DEADEND.

(First published in "TEATR" monthly as a part of article by Regina Lissowska "Between Inspiration and Interpretation”, no. 2/2010)

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