Thursday, 19th November 2009

On the Road: Croatia

24-30 SEPTEMBER 2009

Should anyone invite you to Dubrovnik , drop everything and go!  What an amazing city; it combines a long and troubled history with stunning architecture and the surrounding sea.  The complexity of such a combination is mind boggling.  Looking through a book on the 1990’s war with photos of massive destruction, it is hard to believe that, not 20 years later, thousands of tourists get off cruise ships each morning and fill the streets with shoppers.

Organised by Zvonomir Dobrovic, the founder of the ground-breaking festival, Queer Zagreb, this first Perforations Festival included theatre, dance and performance art from Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia and Macedonia, as well as Croatia.  The first three days took place in Dubrovnik, the next three in Zagreb.  There is a strong conceptual streak in contemporary visual art as well as performing arts in the region and the borders between the genres are quite fluid.  Siniša Labrović is one such conceptual artist whose work is often critical of today’s culture.  His work, Perpetuum Mobile, posits that the body is a self-sustainable unit.  This is illustrated, for 15 minutes, by the expulsion and ingestion of his own urine.  This was, hands down, the most radical of the performances we saw, an especially tough one for my jet-lagged American colleagues sitting in the front row.

Via Negativa is a Slovenian theatre company that, over the past several years, has been working on a series of performances investigating the seven deadly sins.  One piece incorporates the role of the dead rabbit from Joseph Beuys’ first exhibition, another involves a rhythmic game with knives in which the hands of the two performers are nicked, leaving bloody traces.

Branko Brezovec , a pioneer of Croatian theatre from the 1970’s, founded the theatre group Coccolemocco at the age of 15.  So So, a co-production with the French Compagnie des Loups, was performed in a penthouse hotel suite in Cavtat, south of Dubrovnik on the border of Montenegro.  Three actors, speaking in French and Croatian, engage in mysterious and portentous behaviours.  The full moon, setting into the sea, added an ineffable element of décor.

Dance artists included Dalija Aćin from Serbia whose work, Duets/Meet the Expectations involved individual audience members entering a performance area with the choreographer which was visible from the viewing area but acoustically isolated.  I was only able to stay long enough to watch two of these encounters, in both of which the pair conversed but never moved.  BADco., from Croatia, presented a work entitled The League of Time.  A “mad” scientist filled blackboards with endless equations while two women seemed to chase futurist possibilities, bounding in and out of the space, “flying” on a ladder etc.

The Slovenian choreographer Mala Kline showed a work in progress, The End, “a game piece” somewhat inspired by Artaud.  Trying on, trying out characters to see what we, the audience, wanted, she became more and more frantic but never quite found her answer.
Ivo Dimčev is a Bulgarian choreographer whose solo, Lili Handel, has toured widely.  In Dubrovnik, he presented that solo plus Paris, created for Christian Bakalov, a fellow Bulgarian dancer currently based in that city.  An extreme performance, Bakalov’s tasks involve both the painful (hopping on his knees) and the risky (slip-sliding on a painted – or bloody –floor).  A poignant portrait emerges of the anger and humiliation one experiences as an immigrant.  A happy substitution for a company that had to cancel was the young Macedonian choreographer Kire Miladinoski who presented One Way Inside, a short solo and a duet with Ana Josifovska.  His vocabulary Is very personal and I hope to see more of his work.

The schedule was intense, with performances starting from 7pm and going until after midnight.  But this gave us day time to see the islands off the coast of Dubrovnik and swim in the sea – a great bonus.  Heading back to the hotel at 1:30am one night also gave us the incredible opportunity to see the main street empty.  Five stars!

Dubrovink by night_L Uprichard

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Wednesday, 11th November 2009

On the Road: Madrid


This “Window on Madrid Dance” was organised by the Madrid Regional Government to showcase 20 works – both full works and excerpts – by Madrid’s dance companies over four days.  The second edition of this biennial event, the performances and studio showings took place in the new Canal Theatres and the Canal Dance Centre (with nine studios!).  About 70 programmers and professionals were in attendance, 18 of them from outside Spain – from as near as Portugal and as far away as Egypt.

The work covered a very broad range from traditional Spanish and “new flamenco” to experimental, from children’s work and family events to ballet.  But no matter what the genre, an intensive energy permeated every performance.  The commitment of the dancers and musicians was wholehearted and their technical skills were, across the board, more than equal to the choreography’s requirements.

The event was an excellent introduction to the work being created in the Region of Madrid, which is less well known internationally than the work from Catalunya – primarily from the city of Barcelona – which seems to tour more widely.  Madrid’s contemporary artists include Pedro Berdayes and Chevi Muraday, who have been working for many years, and Daniel Abreu and Janet Novàs, relative newcomers.  All these artists incorporate strong visual imagery in their work.  Prominent flamenco artists included Aída Gómez and Antonio Najarro, both of whom have a stage presence that singes everyone in the house.  Both Najarro and Cruceta Flamenco, a newer company, add jazz musicians to their ensembles.  Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid – Compañia Victor Ullate comprises a host of well-trained young dancers who revel in the partnering and split second timing of contemporary ballet.

Ana Cabo, Mar López and Fanny Skouvari, the organisers, were indefatigably cheerful and kept us on schedule from morning through night.  Fortunately, they included long lunches and late dinners to keep our energy up!  Saturday night of this weekend was Noche Blanca, or White Night, and there was, I’m told, dancing in the streets till the wee hours!

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Tuesday, 3rd November 2009

On the Road: Berlin

21-23 AUGUST

After arriving, I found my way to UferHallen, a rehearsal studio north of the city.  The U-Bahn is fairly decipherable, even for a non-German speaker, and I had good directions and a Google map.  A pair of U.S. artists, Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppielo, was working on their new creation, Loop Diver, a piece that would open in October at the University of Nebraska’s Lied Center.  Since Mark has moved to Berlin, they were finding it more efficient and less expensive to work in Europe.  As Mark’s contribution of media and sets was not yet in place, it was a good challenge to imagine those visual elements behind the looping choreographic material.

From there we went, in a smashing thunderstorm, to the HAU (an amalgamation of several theaters on the banks of the River Ufer, anchored by the Hebbel am Ufer) to see Parades & Changes, Replays, a re-interpretation of Anna Halprin’s pioneering 1965 work, Parades & Changes.  Directed by French choreographer Anne Collod, the work features an international cast.  Although not an exact imitation of the original work, the cast traveled to Halprin’s northern California studio (designed by her husband, Lawrence Halprin, the renowned landscape architect who died on 25 October), for her approval of the props and the working concepts.  Comparing this version to an archival film I’ve seen, the 21st century performance is much more polished and presentational but retains a fundamental honesty that was greatly appreciated by the audience.

David Zambrano’s Shock* was presented at Radialsystem V, a space that is the home of Sasha Waltz & Guests but, as a privately funded space, is also regularly rented out for meetings and conferences.  Set on the River Spree, the building was one of the old water pumping stations of Berlin.

While similar in vocabulary to Soul Project (seen at DDF 09), Shock takes place onstage, on a white floor, and is set to Requiems by Mozart and Vivaldi as well as Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”.  This piece, for an all male cast, is structured into duets which appear highly competitive and somewhat aggressive.  Even from the more standard point of view of a seated audience, in contrast to walking among the dancers as we did for Soul Project, their energy is palpable.

*Shock was not a Tanz im August presentation.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and I couldn’t resist taking a boat ride on the River Spree.  Undeniably for the tourist, it nonetheless offered a new perspective on the city.

Bode Museum Berlin | Laurie Uprichard
A somewhat different view of the Bode Museum.

The Akademie der Kunste is semi-hidden in the Tiergarten, a large and lush garden in the middle of the city.  Accords, a piece by Thomas Hauert, a Swiss choreographer based in Brussels, was presented in the Akademie’s theatre.  In this work, set to a wide-ranging musical collage, the highly skilled cast of seven dancers follows a score of improvisational tasks, primarily focused on following the leader.  In duets and with the full cast, the dancers try to keep up with whomever leads for a particular period of time.  The results are often comical, occasionally inspired and wholly delightful.

There was much more work to be seen in the following days, including The Song by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and this summer’s festival favourite, the Spanish flamenco dancer Israel Galvan.   But Dublin, and other festivals beyond, called.  Hopefully, I’ll be back in Berlin before another ten years go by.

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