Venice Biennale Danza 2016
Part 2 of 2 reviews of the festival. Part 1.
Adriana Borriello: Col Corpo Capisco, ★★★✰✰
Lara Russo: Ra-me, ★★★✰✰
Camilla Monga: 13 Objects, ★★★✰✰
Gabriel Schenker: Pulse Constellations, ★★★★✰
Yasmin Hugonnet: La Ronde/Quator, ★★✰✰✰
Albert Quesada: OneTwoThreeOneTwo, ★✰✰✰✰
Daniel Linehan: dbddbb, ★★✰✰✰
+ some Biennale College apprentice pieces are mentioned
17 – 26 June 2016
Having ended the first part of this Venice Dance Biennale review with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company Rosas, let me start the second at the same point – albeit from a different angle. Adriana Borriello (Italy) was one of the first dancers in Rosas, back in the 1980s, and in Col Corpo Capisco she seems several times to quote from that early repertory. Put it this way: I was pretty sure there was direct references to De Keersmaeker’s Mikrokosmos (1987), and that made me suspect strongly that there were other quotes too.
But quotes or not, the point is: to what effect? Borriello’s title means “with the body I understand”, and is pervaded with a sense of corporeal training, transmission and transmutation. In the opening section her four dancers simply remove piles of theatre paraphernalia that clutter her stage – blocks, lamps, cables, clothes, ladders – as if to make space simply for the dancing body. From then on, the piece hinges on one visual distinction – between a trio of women in black and a solo figure in white – and on a series of self-contained phrases that seem to derive from elsewhere: one is reminiscent of a yoga warm-up, one of Graham-style floorwork, several reminded me of Rosas. The material of those phrases seem almost to take on a life of their own – disembodied presences temporarily taking up residence in the bodies of different dancers. It makes the work feel eerily spectral. The woman in white (Cinzia Sità) is initially more an observer, but gradually becomes implicated in these transmigrations of movement from one body to the next. Yet though the dancers are excellent – clear and committed – the import of these actions remains tantalisingly out of reach. Rather than illuminate its thesis, the piece seems to become mired in it.
Smaller-scale works by fellow Italians Lara Russo and Camilla Monga are less ambitious but arguably therefore more successful. Russo’s Ra-me is the simpler, with three men manipulating three differing lengths of copper tubing. At first they seem like zen monks enacting elemental rituals to form horizontals, verticals and triangles with their staffs. Later, a more interpersonal dynamic emerges: in one episode, a dancer seems tethered to the end of rod like a horse in training; in another, two of them must jump over or duck beneath a circling metal arm, as if dodging the scanner of a radar. Monga’s 13 Objects is also prop-based but altogether more intricate, its stage strewn with (you’ve guessed) 13 objects: baseball bat, wheel, pillow, bell, footpump, and so on. The five performers, in bright, blocky colours, create their own soundtrack of thwacks, whistles, slides and scrapes as they gamely shunt, lob and chuck the objects around the stage, at first matter-of-factly but later with mischievous glee, like children tossing toys around a playpen. Overly long it may be, but it’s tautly choreographed, and the playschool feel is disarming.
Pulse Constellations, a solo by Gabriel Schenker (Belgium), is an unexpected pleasure, harking back to a kind of 70s American minimalism (Lucinda Childs comes most to mind). The score is John McGuire’s spacily synthetic Pulse Music III (1978), a sequence of self-contained movements each of which builds up sonic units (blips, plinks, sparkles) into layered configurations of sound. Schenker does the same, constructing distinct choreographic constellations from his atoms of bodily action: a sidestep, a dislocation, a flick, a swivel. He barely moves from the spot throughout the 30-minute solo, but the detail and tautness of construction is mesmerising, even cosmic.
And so, briefly, to some of the festival’s disappointments. Having seen a remarkable solo by Swiss artist Yasmine Hugonnet only a few weeks earlier, I had high hopes for La Ronde/Quator. But this hour-long work is minimalism at its most neutral, its blankest – a snail-paced origami in which four bodies variously fold and unfold in incrementally changing rotational symmetries. It might have worked better as an exhibit in a gallery, where spectators could come and go at will; in the theatre, I felt trapped.
OneTwoThreeOneTwo by Albert Quesada (Spain) purports to investigate the nature of flamenco, and duly opens with a guttural, melismatic voice so characteristic of flamenco’s “deep song” – free-ranging vocals with little defined shape, yet highly articulate, and exacting in their expressivity. The dance duet that follows (Quesada, with Hungarian dancer Zoltán Vakulya) has the lack of shape but neither of the other qualities. It seems all idea and no articulation – gesturing towards its subject without the finish or dynamic to embody or perform it effectively.
Several of my trusted colleagues have spoke highly about the work of Brussels-based American Daniel Linehan – but as yet, I don’t get it. His 70-minute dbddbb is a long series of short scenes, all of similar form if of differing character. In each, the five performers generate a rhythmic score of nonverbal vocalisations (whoops, squeaks, barks) which they match to choppy steps, lunges and scrabbles. The four-square rhythms march relentlessly on. The imposing set of hanging tubes (brushed against only a few times) seems heavily overstated, though the hybrid costumes (half-adult, half-child; half-male, half-female) lend the piece some levity. The performers certainly bring an upbeat, child-like playfulness to the piece, but I wouldn’t have minded if they played outside. Maybe I just didn’t get it. But I really didn’t get it.
No overview of the festival is complete without mentioning the Biennale College, a creative initiative set up by the Biennale in 2013. In this programme, many of the participating choreographers also work alongside selected apprentice dancers to create a short work (often a work-in-progress) to be shown for free. Usually they are performed both indoors – often inside a building of architectural interest in itself – and outdoors in one of the city squares. Some involve local untrained performers too. In some ways, this strand of programming is the hardest: the outcomes are unknown, it can be difficult to adapt performances for both indoor and outdoor locations, and the guest choreographers of course have their own aptitudes for this kind of work. But it’s an important strand of the programme. For Virgilio Sieni (Biennale dance director), “the idea of a festival as a series of evening shows is over” and the College helps to make it a more holistic process of “representation and transmission, training and understanding”. In other words, a way of developing a dance culture, among audiences as well as practitioners.
The College performances that I saw were a pretty mixed bag, but three are worth mentioning. Collective Jumps led by German artist Isabelle Schad is short on actual jumps but big on collectivity, its group of women interlocking into curiously organic machine-like formations, limbs forming cogs and levers, breath coursing through them like hydraulic power. Emanuel Gat’s project, titled simply Venice, is built on his skill with clear but labile compositional structures: make the form strong, and the content can flow to fit it. Sieni’s own piece La Danza della Debolezza was the most “finished” of the College pieces I saw. Like Gat’s project, it is constructed from unstable clusters and circlings, but it has a more emotive tone, and incorporates the diverse bodies of untrained local participants. At one key moment, all the performers run to the edge of the space, holding our gaze with palms held out towards us. Coming from the outdoing director, the gesture feels like both a hello, and a goodbye.