Stealing this 2013 title from a writer, the literary critic and essayist Walter Siti, using it as a useful reflection on performances now inserted into festivals and showcases of this hot autumn of dance, 2019.
The vortex of Autumn festivals has begun: and so it is this year with a mix of shows that are running identically in different cities. This is a sign that co-productions and alliances are increasingly welcomed, and presumably valued with a benevolent eye also in the ministerial sphere, where everything should, or could, change for the better if only in Italy culture and live performances began to carry more weight. This reflection, however, would deserve a chapter of its own compared to our gymkhana run of festival.
Who has even caught a glimpse of the programs of the historic "TorinoDanza 2019" for two years now sweetly sub-titled by its director Anna Cremonini with Dance Me to the End of Love (11 September-26 October), will have noticed that she opened the doors with Sutra. This award-winning pièce, created in 2008 from the collaboration between the choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the sculptor Antony Gormley and 19 Buddhist monks of the Shaolin Temple in China, was the last coup de théâtre of the Rovereto-Trento festival "Oriente Occidente" (24 August-8 September). The only difference is that in South Tyrol the presence of the same choreographer was not foreseen on stage. Instead, the long-awaited Xenos solo by Akram Khan of Bengali origins, but born and living in London together with his company, inaugurated the "REF- RomaEuropa Festival" (17 September-24 November), another noble showcase, yet a multi-disciplinary one, always presided by Monique Veaute and directed by Fabrizio Grifasi. A few days after its Roman debut, Xenos bounced to "TorinoDanza", along with the successive Inoah by the Brazilian Bruno Beltrão.
In the most important and extensive festival of the capital, the two French Silver Lions of last June’s "Biennale Dance" of Venice, Théo Mercier and Steven Michel, will arrive with their Affordable Solution for Better Living, plus A Quiet Evening of Dance by William Forsythe (already reviewed here in July 21, 2019: A Beautiful Challenge – Making Use of The Languages of Dance). Instead, with the "Aperto" festival of Reggio Emilia (21 September-26 November), also multimedia, this year "RomaEuropa" shares a tribute to Merce Cunningham on the centenary of his birth, and on the tenth anniversary of his death (we also wrote about him here in: Cunningham, The Timeless - Beach Birds and Biped at “Bolzano Danza, a tribute to Merce’s revolutions", 29 August 2019). In both the Emilia and Lazio regions, however, it will be a ‘revisited’ treat; the Rambert Ballet will offer, at both festivals in November a Rambert Event, or a potpourri of excerpts from the choreographies of the great American Maestro, arranged and restaged by his ex-dancer Jeannie Steele, with music created and performed live by Philip Selway of Radiohead, (with whom Cunningham worked for Split Sides in 2003), with scenery and costumes inspired by a series of paintings made by the German artist, Gerhard Richter.
Friendly exchanges certainly do not end here. The Belgian group Peeping Tom made its debut at "Aperto", the festival directed by Paolo Cantù, with Kind, the third part of a trilogy dedicated to the theme of family, integrally acquired by "TorinoDanza", without following, however, the order in which it was created: Kind ( 2019), Moeder (2016) and Vader (2014) – being Father- Mother- Child. A Family Trilogy. While the Florentine festival "The Democracy of the Body" (26 September-30 December), projected by the choreographer Virgilio Sieni, will let debut Elena Sgarbossa's Keo at "RomaEuropa". In September, the Sieni’s festival with its ecumenical title has already had some young choreographers of the DNA choreographic notes at Cango, the Cantieri Goldonetta, its theatre headquarters. Now this project supported along with other theaters and centers, will arrive to the “REF” at the end of October.
We abandon so many dense, but useful threads of mind-boggling plots, starting from the beginning with Sutra. A great success at "Oriente Occidente” festival, repeated in the vast Teatro Regio where "TorinoDanza 2019" opened its proposals arm in arm with Leonard Cohen and his loving and melancholic Dance Me to the End of Love. Here, Shaolin Kung Fu, the most famous and spectacular form of all martial arts, is still practiced today in the homonymous Temple of the Chinese region of Henan, gradually loses its combative character, born over 1500 years ago as a self-defense technique against the raids of bandits, but not the original esprit of preparation of the body for Buddhist meditation. The result is a didactic pièce, but yet refined and Pop - from 2008 to the present, which has reached its 250th performance. Shapes in space are built and demolished with millimetric exactitude and geometry, thanks to twenty-one long and hollow wooden boxes moved by the monks themselves as if the boxes were pieces of Lego. In reality, these constructions seem to be designed and prepared at the moment by the same choreographer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui dressed in today's casual clothes, and by a little boy in a Shaolin suit. In fact, the silent beginning of the play shows them both concentrated and resting, as if they were at school, leaning over a wooden box, as if they were meditating on what will happen next.
Given that the show is called Sutra, a word that in Sanskrit means ‘thread on which to string pearls’, where these pearls in Zen represent the teachings of the wise masters, we can immediately imagine a maieutic relationship between the choreographer and the child. But of what kind? According to the Buddhist-Zen principle, the master-choreographer will teach his boy initiate the transformation that occurs in us and others thanks to meditation, but also how to the change martial arts practice into something that resembles sedate Western dance. Once the master and student project finishes, the monks, in their gray coveralls similar to those used for Judo, bald and charged with a very high Qi (body energy) will move the boxes in continuation. They will jump over the boxes, to the side, under, and they will slip into them, all with the comforting music of Szymon Brzóska, the Polish composer which accompanies their screams and the swishing of their swords. The boxes are then put down on the floor, forming petals of a daisy, then to be stacked in rows one above the other. All the while, the oriental-occidental mutation comes about.
Abandoning the Shaolin suits for more austere, dark Western clothes, the monks will forget their martial arts practice and acrobatic jumps in flight like birds, immersing themselves in a choral dance of relaxed arms movements and postures, leaving behind the shining swords which are only a part, not all dangerous, of the eighteen weapons of their discipline. If anything, they will lean on long and decorative rods. The only element that can cause confusion - but perhaps also offering humor - is the little boy. More agile than a cat, and unruly, the boy is placed in the boxes standing on his head, demanding the identical agility from the monks and his master choreographer. He, the little boy, will take longer to acquire a sought-after Zen aplomb, but he will succeed. Towards the end of the pièce, he will begin to move over to the side, like his Western ‘spiritual guide’ does, and eventually be seated and calm, beginning to design his own labyrinthine Lego-Zen game.
We also link the initiatory journey of Akram Khan to the glittering and majestic Xenos, a solo with musicians at his side, commissioned by a British project based on the Centennial of the First World War. Khan wanted to dedicate his last work (at 44, he decided not to create for himself any longer, but only for his company) to an anonymous Sepoy Indian soldier (this is the term used to designate any Indian soldier enlisted in the British Indian Army), sacrificed like his brothers to the colonizer to confirm their victories. For this, his solo is named Xenos, which means ‘foreigner’ in Greek, but it is also synonymous with xenophobia: a word and concept which has sadly come back in use today. For once, among other things, Khan only partially identifies with himself. He is not the loser, sacrificed to the cause of the European colonizer on the magnificent, steeply raked stage created by the set- designer Mirella Weingarten, brought out among the gold and velvet of the Roman Teatro Argentina. If anything else, it is the silent voice of his great-grandfather, a survivor by miracle of the bloodiest First World War, from which Khan understood angrily, reactivating a memory in him and us, unknown, of a conflict passed into history without a trace or gratitude to a million and a half colonized Sepoy Indian, vanquished and dead.
Only at the beginning of a transformation that is very evident even in the colors of the scene and rhythmic-musical can Khan be himself. In the prologue, he is a dancer who follows two musicians on percussion and konnakol, a sort of solfeggio sung in harmony with the drums. Almost in the proscenium arch, with his back to the raked stage dyed orange and embellished silvery stripes under the dangling light-bulbs like those of a country dance, with a record turntable of other times suspended from the over-head gratings, he helps to create a serene atmosphere among them, despite rumbles and explosions coming from afar, threatening and prophetic. Later, large ropes creep into the proscenium; the prologue's musicians depart, leaving empty the chairs and cushions, and a rickety table. Alone, in a white tunic and ankle bells, Kahn elegantly shows off his Kathak - one of the six Indian classical dances - learned at an early age in London by the will of his Bengali mother, but mixed by the movement of various Pop culture (Michael Jackson, for example) and contemporary dance techniques. Akram's dancing body is hybrid, as he himself claims; he wishes to be "a museum of today".
Some musical intermissions offer the only vision, up high, of the five other instrumentalists involved in restoring the original music of Vincenzo Lamagna, giving respite to the dancer. This is also because in the second part of the solo, he becomes a sort of Prometheus, busy balancing on the by now deserted white and gray raked stage, and as if soiled by many painful signs of struggle and fatigue. The Greek myth here is not that of which, in its own way, created humanity by giving us fire, but instead by Prometheus being punished by the gods: constricted by large ropes, chained to the mountain-stage and subjected to atrocious suffering. The suspended turn-table reveals its function: it enumerates the more or less comprehensible names of the disappeared Sepoy Indians; flowing and tonal music becomes acrid and dissonant. A voice increases, extending the bestiality of gratuitous violence, declaring: "This is not a war. It's the end of the world." And while falling pinecones now submerge the body of Khan, another voice, following the texts of Jordan Tannahill, scattered here and there throughout the pièce, concludes Akram Khan's story-telling with an eloquent and politically decisive phrase: "I have killed. I was killed. Is this not enough?"
Compared to the wonderful Desh, presented in 2012 at "RomaEuropa Festival", a completely autobiographical solo dedicated by Khan to his father, and earning him an "Oliver Award", this Xenos can arouse different and contrasting emotions in the viewer: total adhesion or a certain emotional distance, perhaps somewhat didactic, insinuating itself in the refined, though more than accomplished staging. On the other hand, as in Sutra, the pilot pièce which precedes Xenos by ten years, the combination of East and West is arduous, as well as are the sudden transformations of the interpreters from one state of mind to another. They develop a much-loved clarity, perhaps much loved by a general public, and useful to today's Zeitgeist, but even if dubious with respect to the developments of contemporary dance. The Family Trilogy by Peeping Tom, a Belgian company founded in 2000 by the undisputed and internationally recognized talent of Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier, certainly does not suffer from this. The elements that characterize this group from the almost always changing dancers, converge towards a crazy, timeless, dreamlike/ironic realism constantly escaping from itself, surely a bit like the theater of the Swiss director Christoph Marthaler.
Peeping Tom surpasses the genres of the scene, thanks to their willingness to accept all the means of expression, also as a separation of the elements in defense of their autonomy. In this sense, we allow ourselves to cite a text by Walter Siti, allowing ourselves to better penetrate their work. "Realism is what is Impossible" which, even though aimed at literature, also fits in perfectly with scenic art. For Siti, Realism is "that verbal or iconic posture (sometimes casual, sometimes obtained by dint of technique) that catches reality unprepared, or catching us unprepared faced with reality." As a poetic "form of falling in love", true Realism falls under the spell of a scene, of a detail, and from them it extracts a whole world: it loves such details taken away from the flow of habits, throwing us "into illuminating the mystery." It falls in love with objects for what they are, and their "effect of reality" is more useless to the supposed functioning of a story, even more so if it is authentic. In just one sentence, we have true realism: "it secularizes the world only to re-enchant it."
In Peeping Tom, in fact, we always start from the scenery, from a context full of details in which the dancers/performers move. In Kind (Child) seen at the Teatro Ariosto for the “Aperto” festival and then, as already stated, moving on to “TorinoDanza”, we are in an evocative wooded but rocky area, bordered on one side by a high and flat white wall-like rock always on the verge of crumbling. of falling like the big stone that looms on high, and on the other side with technicians in white overalls who, from the beginning of the pièce, try to replace it in the highest openings of the wall itself, yet with multiple tunnels. The landscape has a romantic flavor; it is nocturnal, offering a large moon upstage, yet nothing affords assurance. Indeed, in this place, a forest-ranger commands with a rifle ever ready to shoot / kill harmless tourists; he is accompanied by woman, possibly his wife, a nymphomaniac, who forces him into a marathon of acrobatic kisses of great sensuality and danced fluidity, especially when the violent game warden tries to take care of his daughter, but only to scold her and to put a gun in her hand with which to learn to shoot. This majestically portly daughter roams about like a normal child on a bicycle that can hardly hold her body. She softens up when he sees a deer with human legs in high heels appearing from the forest. But she is ready to take up the gun against a small family of tourists in tents hidden in the forest, already enfeebled by the forest-ranger with the killing of her mother, who then returns to life in another masterly acrobatic dance.
The forest-ranger’s behavior influences his daughter, and perhaps instigates a sort of jealousy in her when she sees a little girl emerge in the tourists' tent, standing next to her father, showing him the same design she had once created and tried to show her parents in vain, through clamor and crying. The big coup de théâtre in this Kind, however, remains giving the role of the corpulent happy and frustrated child to a mezzo-soprano (Eurudike De Beul), who transports us, her voice sustained and clear through Isolde’s Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; a striking detail of poetic realism launched towards a mythical, unexpected ‘somewhere else’ of love and death. On the other hand, as Siti tells us: The cosmos subjected to the spell of the truly realistic narrative is extremely fragile, having nothing to do with the need for plausibility.
In this way, the father-tourist who escaped death, again decided by the forest-ranger's rifle, will perhaps not be able to reach his loved ones as they run away on the rock, under the immobile and indifferent gaze of a couple of elderly tourists who will soon leave. Other commendable details are impossible to forget. Like the almost prehistoric figure of a mother who gives birth to a small puppet monster, made horrible and twisted by the filaments of a nature that has become inextricable and equally prehistoric. This savage, with a male companion like her, desperately wants to breast-feed her monstrous creature, but the baby soprano slam it on her bicycle with murderous intent, and the prehistoric mother only manages to lull it peacefully. The apocalyptic ending is also unforgettable, with a rain of rocks and trees, from which figures almost like foam-rubber emerge with their faces facing backwards. Descendents of the future? It’s simply another question liable to any interpretation in this pièce which suggests many reflections on today's relationship between parents and children, and in which all perfect interpreters and collaborators in lighting and sound should be mentioned. Kind is a show with perfect rhythm: raw, grotesque, excruciating and magnificent. Acting and dancing shine in great originality.
P.S. We refer the reader to a later reflection on the other two parts of the Peeping Tom Trilogy, and the continuation of the plots in the vortex of the festivals.