I’m starting to write accompanied by ceaseless discomforts and persistent curiosities. Discomfort is welcome, it reminds me of how much about contemporary dance I still don’t know. My experience is so poor that I’m doubting my own interpretation, my memories, even my perception. How wouldn’t I? If your hardest move ever was jumping over a puddle, you can easily miss the subtleties of stage movement. If you’re used to art fitting into the same narrative mould, of course your jaw will drop at seeing a piece that has nothing to do with it. And as a performance is passing me by, I’m conscious enough for my net to capture only the memorised fragments. As much as I frown, soul-search and open up, I know that the piece and I will never truly meet on the same page.
On the other hand, I believe in unity of arts, I’m convinced that the same needs, desires and energies flow into different media and reflect in different forms. That is why behind unusual and uncanny expressions – in fact, by way of them – I am able to identify the same issues emerging in films and books, in comics and performances, in paintings and dialogues. I can discern that they hide a joint effort to make an impossible leap over mutual misunderstandings, to raise the questions gathering us in the tense moments when lights go off and we fall asleep. Therefore, in ANTISEZONA I’m searching for the questions that intrigue me, yet of which wouldn’t be aware if I hadn’t identified them here. And I’m letting the performances take me further into soul-searching, to the places no one probably expected we’d finish in, but were worth going. What questions are we talking about?
Where am I?
It is no secret that live performances can transform immediate space into something else, something fictional, yet completely real. It is not an illusion, or a manipulation, or ‘magic’, it is simply reality. We can clearly feel this at the performances taking over a space which isn’t originally meant for performances. Laura Kirschenbaum in Faune / In the Garden took us to the Botanical Garden, and right from the onset of the performance the Garden changed, changing our perception of it, easily switching from the performers to the local plants, ordinary and magical, to everyday visitors as nicely fitting extras, to the urban sounds blending with the pace of the performance. We experience a similar switch either in the gallery space of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Koribant Lab’s Consonance) or an artist’s computer screen (Sindri Uču’s Performance Situation Room). However, I feel the strongest impression in conventional spaces, in the steep and cold Gorgona Hall and the neatly empties TALA Dance Centre’s hall, where very simple interventions create different worlds. Upon entering the Gorgona for a performance of Oh, Mary Shelley (Silvia Marchig), the presence of a mysterious person with a wolf’s mask in the empty auditorium reminds us that we have entered a world beyond normal, and the amazing and disturbing sounds of the saxophone and theremin quickly add colour, intensity and boundaries to the space. We are equally awed by the space and accept it as natural. In the performance O (Sonja Pregrad), six performers start from a platform in the centre of the audience area. Slowly they rise up and initiate their capillary flow from the platform to the seats, stairs, stage and back by different routes. The audience spontaneously moves together with the performers, literally seeking new viewpoints, while general motion, encounters, expansion and contraction create spatial depth, easily and softly, without breaking the fourth wall and crushing the boundaries between the performers and the audience. Finally, The Saddest Method. Ever – Performative Landscapes of Low Potential and High Risk (Kik Melone) engulfs us right from TALA’s entryway: a pair of performers and their hypnotic motions and animal song introduce us to the performance (which has already begun) and set us in a room which they shape with their dance, song and different magnificent mischiefs like it’s made of plasticine; even the performers’ disappearance out of sight points to a new space which is real and important, although it eludes our senses. In brief, these performances not only create new spaces, but they also give them depth and flexibility, make up their own coordinates, elegantly eschew the laws of physics, and we can settle inside this space is we accept the fact that we have no support in the map. The ease of performative displacement reminds us of how fragile our usual perception of space is, i.e. in how many different spaces we abide simultaneously, without being (or wanting to be) aware of. Countless quantum physicists have probably addressed this phenomenon, whereas dance simply embraces this fact and uses it to take us further than our everyday experience. But this is more than a tourist excursion, it is rather a path towards further questions.
Who are these people?
Entering a different space, we find people, but alas, these are not the people we know. These are beings we can neither define nor name, nor reduce to characters, nor even agree on if they are people after all; we can only identify them as unidentifiable. In this case too very simple effects manage to transform human bodies into other and fluid. In the performance We Weren’t Here (Ivana Bojanić and Viktoria Bubalo), the performers glide, simply not allowing their feet to lift from the ground, and become strange creatures, somewhat threatening in the moments when they glide to the edge and fix the gaze of a captured audience member. In the already mentioned performance O, the performers move very slowly and stretch towards an invisible Sun, reminding of plants, although slow awakening, liberation of movement and gradual return to hibernation can relate to any form of life. Their mutual interconnection is that strong that we get the impression that this is a symbiosis or a collective creature, but such questions seem superfluous in the scope of the performance. The title of the production Oh, Mary Shelley initially leads us to ascribe monstrosity to the unusual performing couple, however the popular Frankenstein underlines that the very idea of a monster is a simple and dangerous way to contain whatever exceeds of expectations. Therefore, instead of trying to define and understand these creatures, we are invited only to accept and be guided by them.
The performers guide us by using choreographed movement, without many words, to unfathomable and incongruent places, but their common focus is on relationships – a relationship with oneself, with others on the stage, with the audience. The performance Diaries of Touch (mimoOs, ZDRUHESTRANY and Sonja Pregrad), inspired by lockdown, reinvents touch as experience and communication. The stickiness of flour, the humidity of water, the warmth of the body, the freedom of mutual distancing and approaching, dancing together and freely leaving seem like a ritual oblivion of a time when movement and closeness were ridden by fear and regulations. Harmony appears frequently in other performances as well: miraculously, the more bodies are present on stage, the bigger their harmony, as though it is impossible to draw a line between different beings, as though they belong to the same river flow. Contrary to this, solo performances are distinctly characterised by relationships with others, and the performer’s stage solitude paradoxically accentuates the presence of others. Others are mentioned and mystically invoked, others are embodied, others are distanced from. Other are longed for, others are defended from, others give the first a possibility to exist. A relationship with the absent cannot be unequivocally defined, but often it leads to a strong feeling of loneliness. And so it happens that the difficult and serious performance of This One: Misericordia (Anika Cetina and Valentina Miloš) provokes less sadness – no matter how much the two performers suffer, at least they suffer together and in harmony – than the performance of Dina pustinjska (Sindri Uču) in which the solo performer finally drags a sad toy dog on a leash. Is there anything sadder than Umberto Lancia who finally performs The Saddest Method. Ever – Performative Landscapes of Low Potential and High Risk all alone, because his fellow dancer Silvia Marchig fell ill? A question in the most rhetoric of senses.
Basically, speaking about who is on the stage again brings us to a slippery slope: some presences are absent, some absences are embodied, some groups are individual, and some couples realised only through solitude. The sum of the people on the stage should be discarded anyhow because the performers turn into powerhouses, dynamic and changeable, easier to understand if we pinch ourselves to see what is hidden under the skin. Only such down-to-earth consideration can take us towards further, bigger questions.
Is this a matter of life and death?
One might assume that the described performances are loose, elusive and subject to all interpretations, like moving Rorschach inkblots, but this is mainly not so. The performances more or less subtly point us to their issues which were, in this ANTISEZONA, unexpectedly broad and opened up shamelessly. I mention shame because many artists in other disciplines rather prefer to stick to the safety of ironic distance. A serious take on the issues of life and death is considered pretentious, and pretentiousness is a deadly sin forgiven only to famous and long dead artists. However, here the living artists have taken this risk and addressed difficult issues which have, naturally, never been or ever will be overcome. In the first ten minutes of This One: Misericordia we are watching an empty stage and listening to Mozart’s Requiem before the performers join in. There is no escape from the theme and the pathos, no holding back, no distance or disclaimer, no stage-related or other distractions: two performers directly, utterly simply and dead seriously focus on death, in a way irreducible to a simple statement or emotion. As we saw, the O performance, instead, focuses on the awakening of life, in a much more dispersed and free way, but the issue of life is clearly defined and utterly directly processed: even with vocal and choreographic surprises, the scope of awakening, culmination and falling asleep is always the same, inevitably given and the life cycle itself. Finally there is the performance of Oh, Mary Shelley, which travels to the both coasts of the Styx and depicts the wondrous, mighty bodies that deceive death. I have written more about this performance elsewhere, but let us just add that it illustrates how difficult issues can be addressed in a playful, imaginative and funny, but at the same time utterly serious and wise way.
Sludge at the bottom of the cup
Questions breed new questions, interpretations open up and get shrouded again as if they were completely harmonious pieces, but finally what is left is a surplus of details, images, memories and digressions, a surplus by no means fitting in the whole of the text, but rather creeping in and sticking to the text like a nice thistle. What is left is Ivana, Viktoria and Tessa spinning in a paper forest in We Weren’t Here; what is left is a little picnic in the Botanical Garden’s pavilion in Faune / In the Garden with coffee in Java; what is left in Konstantin the dog, a permanent audience member and supporting actor in Performance Situation Room; what is also left is the puns of the Kik Melone collective; what if left is faraway Sonja we see in a mirror greeting the audience on the stage from the auditorium (in Object of Dance); what is left is the performances I missed (Tamara Bračun’s Silence Blink, Toma Savić-Gecan’s Untitled); what is left is the fences and brackets that need not to be opened or closed; what I left is, finally, dance which I cannot reproduce either live or in a text, but it’s not like I have to. What is left is the usual writer’s fatigue, the fatigue that nevertheless ate the initial feeling of discomfort and depleted my curiosity. But the fatigue will be the first to go. Until tomorrow, until the next ANTISEZONA block, until another time…
About the author
Luka Ostojić was born in 1987 in Šibenik and grew up in Zagreb. A sociologist and comparative literature graduate. He has worked as a journalist, editor, film and literary critic, hosted numerous cultural programmes and pursued pedagogic work. A former editor-in-chief of Booksa.hr literature website and executive editor of the Zarez bi-weekly culture magazine. He wrote a hybrid between fiction and non-fiction Upomoć, pročitali smo knjigu! Klinički pojmovnik kritičkog čitanja (Kulturtreger and Kurziv, 2018) which was shortlisted for the HDP Kamov Award for the best book of the year. He edited or co-edited five books. A member of the Croatian Film Critics Association. Currently working as a PhD candidate on the research project Memories of/on Literature in Daily Life at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb.