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Posts from the ‘Lise Smith’ Category

Strange but not interesting

Lise Smith

Sixty minutes of the most trite, tedious and downright amateur theatre I have ever endured, Me and My Stranger is a patronising and wholly superficial narration of what it might mean to be “strange”. There’s very nearly an interesting point here about the linguistic parallel between “stranger” meaning “foreigner” and “strange” meaning “unfamiliar”; but Sarah Vanhee is not the woman to make it. Instead, she settles for a series of uncritical summaries of other people’s work, quoting Hannah Arendt and showing lengthy portions of documentary film Vers Nancy, without combining these disparate pieces into any sort of thesis. Read more

Please be advised that there is a warning on this one

Lise Smith

If the filmmaker David Lynch were ever to make a contemporary dance piece for three Gallic performers, it would probably look and sound something like Maud Le Pladec’s Professor. Looming shadows, dancers disappearing through the curtains, slow-motion visual effects and an aurally uncomfortable soundtrack – all it needs is a dancing dwarf, and the Lynchian setting would be complete.

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Lise’s edit of Eylul’s piece

The hall is already dim while the audience enters, and gets even darker when the performance begins. A dancer very slowly becomes partly visible, being even more unrecognizable thanks to his all-black suit. Professor, based on the three-parts musical “Professor Bad Trip” composed by avant-garde electronic music composer Fausto Romitelli, offers a genuine synesthetic experience, one that brings together the spatial, the visual and the aural in a very complex way.

The dance has a distinct moving quality focused on the hands and arms; the movement of the body mimics the movement of music in an unconventional and dedicated way. After a while, we really begin to feel the flyer’s promise: watching the music in its intricacy and hearing the sound of this dynamic dance.

The first dancer is swallowed by the back curtain, and a second later we see him with an electric guitar under a single spotlight, contributing live to the recorded music. The second part starts with another dancer’s jump from the rear side; we see a chase, a run, with dancers’ shadows echoing, behind and infront of the curtain.

The three male dancers show slow motion mimics and gestures, with changing emotions, as if performing a real “bad trip” as three alter-egos of the same person. At this point, the performance acts in parallel with the music’s narrative suggestions. This second part functions as a comic relief for an otherwise quite dark and uncanny performance.The final part ends with the convergence of the three, looking to each other as if falling from the ecstatic experience. They stand still, the music dies away and the synesthesia stops.

Romitelli’s score and instrumentalization is so impressive that the choreography might have vanished in it, become unnoticeable, or been praised only for the sake of musicality. Yet Le Pladec’s work does more than feeding on the power of the music. It enhances it, translates it, and fills every corner of its aural space. Thus Maud Le Pladec successfully challenges and matches the intense and sophisticated composition of Romitelli, taking us to a cogent ‘bad trip’ and back.

Posted by LiseS at 10/26/2010 03:28:00

Weapon of Choice – an unapologetic panegyric

Lise Smith

Fatboy Slim, I have to celebrate you. It’s hard for me to be coldly analytic about one of my favourite music videos – nay, one of my favourite short films – ever, so I’m not even going to try. This is going to be a solid gold panegyric, three hundred words of nothing but effusive praise. I have to praise you like I should.

In an era of music promos featuring identikit popstrels performing overfamiliar street-jazz routines in monotonous unison, with intrusive close-ups of the face and midriff of the otherwise forgettable pop muppet in question, it’s good to be reminded that there are artists with a genuine interest in making a creative product to accompany their music. And it’s great to be reminded also, in the figure of Christopher Walken, what genuine star quality is.

Walken’s character in the video is deliberately unglamorous – he wears a shabby, dun-coloured suit and his face appears ashen. He sits in a bland hotel foyer with only the hum of a hoover for company. Walken is, of course familiar to millions for his ice-cold Bond villain and crime boss characters, so it’s a surprise for many to see him leap up from his lonely seat and tapdance to Fatboy Slim’s latest floor-filler. That Walken is a trained dancer who performed in musicals as a younger man was news to most.

The movement has a wonderfully relaxed quality to it – although Walken’s tapping is scintillatingly rhythmic, he performs much of the material with hands casually in pockets and with minimal effort showing in the face. Parts of the material are gently mimetic: on the line “You can go with this,” Walken gestures to the side with a hand. Other sections have more visual dash – a sequence where Walken executes a series of fast stepping turns through a double-mirrored corridor, causing infinite reflections of the dancer, lingers long in the mind.

The illusion of a middle-aged man (Walken was 58 when he shot the video) having fun in a hotel-shaped playground is somewhat broken towards the end when the actor takes to a harness and flies around the lobby. This fantasy sequence actually takes away some of the magic for me – I prefer the idea of the jaded man having a moment of plausible pleasure, dancing around the escalators and corridors of the hotel, and this final sequence breaks my suspension of disbelief. But that one small niggle aside, Weapon of Choice remains one of the most inventive, original and surprising videos of the last ten years. And all without a hint of midriff in sight.

It’s off to work we go

Lise Smith

Bearing in mind perhaps William Morris’s notion that “nothing useless can be truly beautiful”, with E.I.O Maria Baroncea, Eduard Gabia and Dragana Bulut have set out to create something practical and with purpose. Half of the audience become participants in the piece by “working” for an hour using objects on the stage; the workers here control not only the means but the mode of production.

On the stage are rolls of fabric, plastic, string and wire, planks of wood, ladders, tables covered with tools and materials. The workers shuffle in, looking a bit bewildered, and each picks up an object to start “work” with. Participants chalk circles on the floor, build structures out of planks and chairs, wind and unwind string, measure out the surfaces. The watching audience have been asked to choose “the best worker” to pay after the event, so the process of labour demands our attention.

Sometimes the actions of one worker defeat the efforts of another. A tall bespectacled gentleman carefully erases from the floor the chalk circles carefully placed there by a woman ten minutes earlier. One worker builds a rather attractive model animal out of bendy rollers; another deconstructs the model and places the rollers rather more prosaically in her hair. Several workers hang out a string of inflated balloons on a line of string; later somebody else pops them one by one.

As the piece progresses, sculptures form all over the space – a pyramid of planks downstage left, a tent upstage and a towering monument built of chairs and ladders at the back. Every available surface is wrapped in string and plastic. The working environment is transformed by some silently agreed process of collectivebricolage.

Towards the end, it’s apparent that many workers have run out of ideas and some look obviously bored. The pace of work slows and those still active tend to add aimlessly to what already exists –another flower or feather atop structures that were built earlier. The workers lack purpose and the work lacks a defined use – and I think maybe Morris was right about uselessness.

Sanja Mitrovic, Will You Ever Be Happy Again?

Lise Smith

Serbian choreographer Sanja Mitrovic describes duet Will You Ever Be Happy Again? as “a docu-tale for one Serbian, one German performer and two cartoon boxes”. This playful description, indicating both the idea of (problematic) national identity and the materials of theatrical construction neatly sums up Mitrovic’s concept – the exploration of what it means to be Serbian, or German, through the medium of the cardboard box.

The absorbing and provocative performance has performers Mitrovic and Jochen Stechmann narrating – in Serbian and German – their national stories through childhood games and reminiscences. The layered presentation has the two pretending to be children pretending to be “Partisans and Germans”, in a game of cultural stereotypes that reveals early political conditioning: the Serbian word “cockroach”, we are told, translates as “German bug”. Stechmann scuttles bug-like around the floor in illustration; the game, he tells us, does not make him happy.

The layering of playful-unplayfulness continues in the game of “Equal Exchange”, in which Mitrovic and Stechmann comment flatly on the unequalness of exchange after the fall of communism. “I give you something bitter,” says Mitrovic, “and you give me something sweet”. “I’ll give you visas,” counters Stechmann, “and you give me war criminals.” Mitrovic doesn’t want to play any more.

Both performers use artefacts from their upbringing (contained in the cardboard boxes) to narrate both their personal and national stories. Mitrovic shows us the illustrations of war in her Grade 1 schoolbook, describing the scenes matter-of-factly as “the first fire”, “the first bombs”. Stechmann brings out his grandfather’s Ahnenpass, the document which confirms his all-Aryan, non-Jewish identity. Stechmann explains he keeps the document still, because “you never know”.

With simple images, narrated memories and readings from letters, Mitrovic sketches out a complex mesh of hopes, dreams and frustrations. The simplicity is key to the work’s sensitivity – small, personal details allow the audience to grasp the horror of the past and fears for the future far more effectively than a dry exposition of history would. At the heart of this work is a self-determined gesture towards the truth – always inadequate, but always vital.

Anat Eisenberg & Mirko Winkel, Life and Strive

Lise Smith

In recent years, the definition of choreography has grown far beyond the traditional connotation of “movement set harmoniously to music” to include improvisation, non-theatrical settings, viewer participation and the inclusion into the canon of choreography of works that contain not only little trained dance but little in the way of movement at all.

With Life and Strive Anat Eisenberg & Mirko Winkel push the boundaries of this definition yet further by centring their entire performance around an extended unplanned improvisation by the audience themselves, a participatory “happening” at one of Istanbul’s exclusive new gated communities. The set-up is simple: the small audience group is informed at the beginning of the performance that we are off to a sales meeting with an agent at one of these new residential blocks. We are invited to take on the identity of a genuine prospective buyer, thinking up a suitable backstory for our investment purchase, and off we go to our appointment.

The rare and unfamiliar experience of visiting one of these new blocks, strangely isolated from the world outside and exclusive in every sense, was certainly a new and interesting one – but what of the choreography? A generous reading would probably call this a totally immersive and inclusive performance, generous to its participants in allowing them this elite experience. Another reading would equally probably be, “What choreography?” It’s hard to say exactly what Eisenberg and Winkel actually created, in craft terms at least.

I would have liked there to be some surprise (beyond the initial surprise of being told I was about to attend a sales appointment at an apartment I’m not rich enough to even dream of owning); some further engagement, some reflection on the experience from the artists. An interesting experience, then, but ultimately an empty one.