Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Faki Day 6: Artifice, everyday violence and non-justice

There’s something about the pharmaceutical factory Medika that has a weird effect on memory. Of course the friendships made through collaboration and conversation will last and even strengthen - but the stronger memories from Faki will seem to never be the ‘known’ but the ‘un-known’, or the partly known. It’s the passing glimpses of a perverse moment, the random acts of generosity and humanity, or the hidden menace that stick to the brain. I don’t know if that’s just the sheer labyrinth-like nature of the place: creating surprises around every corner, small shocks to attune the senses and unsettling reality. These are the unforgettable content filling the frame of the factory. The normality disappears.

The final day of the festival began with a Zagrebian circus performance about torture, followed (after a quick scamper through the rain) by a polished surrealist performance from Patricia Hastewell and group All These Places Had Their Moments which blended various styles of movement. The site-specific choreography collaboration from Clipa Theatre, Collective B and Liv Fauver was the only show to fully utilise the courtyard of Medika – and a unified collective of punks, artists and revellers, and a dog, watched on in silent reverence.  Daniela Marcozzi closed out the festival with a widely referential work Right On! addressing today’s troubled perspective on justice.

The only apology is the circus performance from Cirkorama.

All These Places Had Their Moments

Writing, or attempting to write, or failing to write, so much on dance these last few days has taught me a few things. One is that dancers will inevitably tell you that you don’t need to know much about dance to write on it - that a naïve perspective is ok. I think this is partly true. A traditional aim of the artist is to communicate on a universal, symbolic level, so why shouldn’t I then be able to write about what I understand of it? On the other hand, working with a technical language is naturally inclusive of finer points, which a critic must be able to cover. When a piece of theatre fails, for example, I know enough to guess why it might have failed – I can see the intention, or see the bigger picture. With dance, that’s more difficult. There are some works that are trying to do something quite specific, and this point itself doesn’t render the whole initiative invalid. Achieving something specific within a limited frame can have a flow-on effect, even if more than half the audience doesn’t get it. This s true not only of specific work, but is inherent in the concept of avant-garde, where the audience will be alienated because the piece is trying to discuss something which does not yet exist. Again – that it was comprehended does not mean necessarily that the objectives were valid.

There’s something instantly accessible about Patricia Hastewell’s All These Places Had Their Moments. I think it’s the multidisciplinary nature of the work – fusing Hastewell’s ballet influences with physical theatre and contemporary dance, but it could well be its starting point is Proust’s Swann’s Way, the first volume of the novel In Search of Lost Time which meditates on the theme of involuntary memory (recall via physical cues). The associational logic – fed by influences from Ionesco and Beckett under the banner of Theatre of the Absurd – gives the performers permission to explore a wide range of connections through movement, and through this clash of language to attempt to develop a new logic. It’s a dream-like space, informed by a constant flipping of characterisation: one moment it’s husband and wife defending against an antagonist, the next minute the antagonist has hold of the wife and is fending off the husband. The empty frames – a cliché of surrealism – point to both the multiple perspectives possible and the constant changing between them, whilst the other feature of the stage design, white sheets covering furniture and performers so that they are indistinguishable from each other, indicates a theme of animation, or a return to past forms.

It’s an easy approach in a well-trodden area, but it pays dividends for the group, who are able to play on fairly solid ground. Luis Garcia’s movement draws delightfully from absurdist physicality and connects with some of the atonal compositions, Alexandros Anastasiadis is his tumbling and swashbuckling foil, breezily commenting on the stiffness of Garcia, while the two female dancers (Giulia Brigona and Hastewell) work the conventionality of their strict female roles hard to the tune of Bizet’s Harbanera from Carmen, and their outfits which might be inspired by Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, shifting from housewife to lifeless doll, pleading for protection or subtlely rejecting it. It’s all trotting along fairly well until the end, where a kitchen table drama is subverted by its final text, the only spoken words of the performance, hinting at a subconscious violence: “I have a brother in Fukushima. He grows apples. Is she your mother? The light is on”. It’s a kind of collapse of spaces, times and realities that is actually not often seen anymore, nods to the surrealists, and attempts to address unspoken horrors through an expression of the subconscious. For those who don’t buy new trends of staging ‘reality’ and ‘fictions’ in dance (if I hear another dancer stop mid-routine to relate their biography I think I will never see dance again) it’s a refreshing change to see something which reverts to clear artifice, rendering known forms strange rather than pretending some authentic revolution.


One of the real pleasures of being in Medika this week has been hearing the occasional outbursts of staged violence coming from the workshop group developing Forever/Never, a site-specific intervention with the theme of violence. Having lunch to the sounds of Izabela Soldaty’s Polish tones screaming “COME, I SHOW YOU AN ASSHOLE!” contains a particular type of happiness, as does wandering out into the courtyard of Medika to find the normally serene and humble Liv Fauver losing her shit over needing the key to a locked gate because her “performance starts in one hour!”, with new onlookers not sure if it was real or not (this is a situation that really happens in Medika).

So my expectations were a little attuned to what to expect from the performance of Forever/Never, choreographed by Idit Herman together with co-creator Artour Astman (I believe Dror Lieberman and Kazuyo Shionoiri are also involved somewhere). Still, I wouldn’t say I was totally prepared for what I saw when I finally made it out to the courtyard of Medika for the workshop’s realization – in particular, I did not expect to see a half-circle of locals paying close attention and respect to the performers. It was a beautiful, communal atmosphere, fed by subtle observations made by collaborators of the small acts of violence which occur on a regular basis there. Soldaty’s punk character is a particularly satisfying inclusion in this regard, dressed in black leather and wearing a jaded, hollow expression, looking like a mirror of some of the audience members. Sonia Borkowitcz’s Japanese dancer is a perfect parody of the international artists at the festival, clearly enjoying the freedom implicit in the permission to move as ‘weirdly’ as she can, whilst Vilte Svarplyte’s earnest fan creates some beautiful comedy through her reverence, mirrored by Elsa Mourlam’s over-concerned festival assistant.

It’s street theatre meets dance, and the performers handle their characters well (even seeming a little released from the physical rigours of their normal practice). The also handle their transitions effectively, as the piece slides into a kind of ‘remote control’ style of repetition, a la Run Lola Run, punctuated by changes in gear such as dancer biographies and re-formulations of the spoken text.

It’s a piece that doesn’t try to do anything other than play with the audience in representing violence, and it resonated with the impromptu audience, who were endlessly entertained by the variations and familiarities.

Right On!

The description of Daniela Marcozzi’s Right On! (IT) tells the story of her friends being abducted from their apartment by Italian police in 2012, held in prison without charge for a period of one year, and then mysteriously released. It’s an all-too-familiar story of those involved with social resistance movements: generating martyrs at the best of times, now those who would participate in resistance against state violence, misuse of power, and removal of rights do so on the knowing basis that they may pay a severe personal price. Laws such as Italian 270-bis , permitting arrest of individuals associated with ‘acts of terrorism’ are being introduced in almost every liberal democracy at the moment – outwardly, to ‘increase security’, with, yeah… maybe just a hint of a state control agenda. If we aren’t all already China - removing the political objectives of autonomy, human rights, basic standards of living etc. in favour of economic objectives - we’re well on our way.

The most interesting part of Right On! is the fact that you would only know that this is what it’s about if you read the description. Marcozzi never directly states her personal interest, using the story of Albert Camus’ The Fall to bind together metaphors regarding the collapse of justice. She employs a wide range of texts: some phrases from Nina Simone’s version of Sinner man, backing a period where the protagonist works menial jobs with Squirrel Nut Zippers Hell, or recreating the Roman Goddess of Justice, Lustitia, with her blindfold and scales. Putting aside some potential queries I have about the free adoption of material without visible acknowledgement, it’s a rangy approach, but it never feels unfocused – the lyrics of Simone’s version, for example, express a personal hopelessness from Marcozzi in looking for help, the narrative from Camus expresses the paradox that the dignity of the legal system’s agents misrepresents its ethical ‘flexibility’ according to the prevailing political winds. These elements are dramaturgically arranged to construct a journey which questions and critiques the accepted neutrality of justice today (if, indeed, anyone is actually interested to uphold such a point any more, such is the cynicism around today). Nevertheless, it’s a point well made, hinting at a nostalgia for a time when one could voice one’s dissatisfaction without fear of persecution.

A contextual problem might be that such arguments seem dated now – the time when this myth of neutrality might be relevant has already passed. Countries regularly flaunt international human rights agreements, domestically trying whatever they can to reduce the visibility of inequality on one hand, whilst selling policies to the aspirational which actively increase it on the other. Ideas such as ‘Justice’ seem buried in the 80s.

But that’s a sad point, and there’s an optimism to Marcozzi’s approach that is honest and potentially emancipatory. But the hypocrisy of Camus’s protagonist lawyer seems to have the loudest voice, painting a much darker view of the paradoxes which exist today: “I understood that I had signed inadvertently the death sentences of millions of people” and “after I left, my ex-political group became a terrorist group” When the political winds shift, the bystander quickly becomes executioner through their neutrality. Such is the paradox facing Marcozzi – finding herself floating lost, between a need to support her friends, and her ontoligcal need not to abandon the structures of society. 

It’s a position we can all relate to at this dark moment.

All These Places Had Their Moments
Choreographed by  Patricia Hastewell (ESP/AUT)
with Luis Garcia, Alexandros Anastasiadis (GEO/AUT), Giulia Brigona and Hastewell
Choreographed by Idit Herman and Artour Astman (ISR)
with Izabela Soldaty (POL), Sonia Borkowitcz (PL) Vilte Svarplyte (LAT), Elsa Mourlam (FRA) and Liv Fauver (USA)

Right On! 
Written and performed by Daniela Marcozzi (ITA/DEU)
with support from  Peter Rose
Photo Credits: Josip Viskovic and Florian Eibel

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