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)