Regarding the unforeseen - On the dramaturgy of the unpredictable during KoresponDance

         - I don’t know where I am. Can you only use this phrase when heading somewhere?

A soft voice is guiding me. She never panics. She has no physical body but still has been in more places than you can ever imagine. She knows all directions; the routes you know by heart, routes you will never encounter. She reveals paths to springs in provocative mountains. She’s there when you are feeling lost.

When this ethereal voice gives you contradictory instructions, she tries to tell you something within the limitations of her language. ‘Turn around’ when you should still continue, is her way of saying that you missed something along the way. ‘Turn right’, where you can only find a continuous stream of water with no path nor bridge, is her encouraging you to descend into the river until you drift weightlessly with the current. Water is tolerant. When someone dives onto its surface, water makes space without hesitation. It adapts naturally. When it’s freezing, water transforms into a solid surface as if to keep all the drops close together. Water doesn’t resist when poured into an ancient fountain to partake in the same routine endlessly - flying in the air, falling, flying again, falling. Water is tolerant.

This soft voice that is guiding me along the Sázava river has never touched or been touched by water. She has never seen any landscapes. She can only imagine them. Because once we arrive at our destination, she disappears. -

Zelená Hora. Photo: Emma Meerschaert.

Zelená Hora. Photo: Emma Meerschaert.

In the relatively limited timeframe of five days, the navigation system on my phone enabled me to go from Belgium to Žďár nad Sázavou and be immersed in the happenings of KoresponDance. The map of Žďár’s castle and monastery complex, in turn, guided us through the festival’s unique locations and surroundings: a serene courtyard with an ancient fountain, a blossoming apple garden, the Zelená Hora with its UNESCO Pilgrimage Church, a defined grassfield with swampy ponds, one of the castle’s cold cellars, the Sázava riverbed, I could go on. These distinctive locations served as temporary scenographies for choreographic performances. The fragment above is an excerpt of the result of a writing task for WRITE/MOVE, the Dance Writing seminar on Body and Mobility in which I was lucky enough to participate. Herein I pondered on ‘guidance' and ‘water’, the latter being one of the dramaturgical axes related to the festival's site-specific poetics.

What particularly stuck with me from KoresponDance’s poetic scenery is the impact of the unpredictable elements of the natural environment. Such as the transient presence of a bird or a particular weather phenomenon, adding unique, unforeseen layers to a dance performance. How can we align the continuously changing natural scenographies and our perceptions of dance? Maybe we can consider this question as a dramaturgy of the unpredictable; how a set of uncontrollable coincidences influences our experience as a spectator. Describing these occurrences as if written for this ethereal voice that guided me to this moving place; because upon arriving at our destination, she disappeared. She wasn’t able to touch or be touched by the water or its movements. She wasn’t able to experience the unforeseen, magical-like occurrences in the scenographic landscapes. She can only imagine them.

Photo: Emma Meerschaert.

A few short footnotes to the weather forecast

‘Treatment of Remembering', the captivating performance by POCKetART, brought out this perspective on the festival and its surroundings. The concept by Johana Pocková raises probing imaginaries and questions: Nature is dead and there is no going back. Do you remember how it felt when we could breathe together? When we could sink our feet into the grass? When raindrops fell on us? Together with the audience, performers Johana Pocková, Sabina Bočková and Barbora Rokoszová, undergo a process of remembering at a moment when nature is depleted by humankind. This performance took place at the Pilák Amphitheater. It had been a windy day, where the sun and clouds continuously played hide and seek. But at 18.30, at the beginning of the performance, the sun started shining so bright, as if to highlight her irreplaceable abilities. I could feel her rays soothing me, warming my slightly shivering skin. The notable presence of the sun enabled me to experience the premise of this performance: “Imagine you’re breathing”. Being reminded of the sun’s inimitable contribution to the creation of oxygen, I felt the precarity of our green surroundings: a grass field and the seemingly endless line of trees. Without the daily recurring presence of the sun, their temporary scenography wouldn’t be able to grow or live.

The performers were continually moving into new positions as if they were seeking other ways to relate to one another. It evoked a search for a different, more sentient way of being in the world. Their eyes closed, with an inimitable intensity and illuminated by the sun, they moved triangularly but in isolation across a white dance floor. Their movements reached their peak when, at a deliberate pace as if set in slow motion, they depicted an unstoppable burst of laughter, but in complete silence. Their impressionable facial expressions slowly transformed from delightful discharge to deep indignation. A display of emotional degradation, as if their joyful state was slowly being destroyed by the realization of the world’s decay. Imagine nature is dead and there is no going back. Would you be able to remember the relief of a deep breath? Of sinking your feet into fresh water? Of the sun warming your skin?

The evening before, this green landscape surrounding the Pilák Amphitheater served as the scenography for ‘Omma’ by Josef Nadj. This time, the performance started late in the evening, at 10 pm. Although the exact same coordinates, it felt like a completely different environment. The sun was already setting, gradually ‘disappearing’ from our line of sight until it became completely dark. The trees transformed into dark silhouettes against which the dancing bodies of eight men were illuminated by electrical lights. The unforeseen element was the unusually cold temperature. Blankets were provided to keep us warm, but the humidity of the cold night made the stage fairly damp. It was too dangerous for the dancers to perform their energetic ending, so choreographer Josef Nadj decided to stop the performance early. The coldness of this night, which seemed to be quite rare for this time of the year, resulted in numerous different endings of Omma, for the final scene which we now had to imagine ourselves. An exercise in careful speculation and a cautious reminder of the influence of our environment.

On the first night of the festival, before the official opening on July 15, there was a beautiful benefit concert for Ukraine by harpist and vocalist Ekaterina Levental. The cold, rainy evening with thunder and lightning underlined the tragic theme and the intimate setting. The night ended with an evening screening of dance films presented by Jana Návratová, director of the Dance Film Festival in Prague. The curtains of the domed entrance to the courtyard were cut into strips and swayed dramatically back and forth to the unpredictable rhythm of the wind. Wind as a natural air movement of the atmosphere was carefully examined, explored and manipulated by Andrea Salustri the next day. In his intriguing performance ‘MATERIA’, a synthetic material - polystyrene - takes center stage and seems to come to life through wind generated by electricity and interventions by Salustri himself. By thoughtfully placing and moving fans around the space, linking them to one another and bringing their breeze into contact with the material; he creates animate architectural constellations that encourage imaginative thinking. The performance starts with a range of what seem to be physical experiments to explore the possibilities of manipulating air circulation; for example by relating the elements in such a way that a polystyrene rectangle begins to ‘walk’; or by making smaller pieces rotate above a fan like planets orbiting the sun. Gradually, he creates a series of poetic images; using the wind and polystyrene in such a way that tidal waves and crackling fireworks appear. By attaching microphones to the constellations, the many variations of the moving material even become audible.

Source: KoresponDance.

Precious Passengers

The day that I arrived there was a double rainbow, allegedly also called the “Dark Band of Alexander”. When this beautiful mirage appears in front of your eyes, a large number of people  are often made aware of it, either by pointing at it or by sharing photos. Similarly, anyone who takes a glance or a step outside can see it whether it is storming or drizzling. More difficult to share or evoke are the small occurrences in our natural environment that only influence a few people’s perception, sometimes just a single spectator.

During 'I'm Here' by Galit Liss, there was a particular moment where the spectators were invited to contemplate their own hands: their unique line marks, the texture of their skin, their memories of touch. When I turned over my hands to examine them, a tiny spider revealed itself in my palms. In the time frame of a few seconds, it wove its first thread from one hand to the other. Before it could strengthen its thread or continue making a web, my hands met the inviting palms of a woman. By moving my hands for this moment of performative interaction through hand mirroring, I had broken his thread. No trace was left of the little spider. Seeing and feeling him weaving a thread in my hand, reminded me of a passage from ‘The Spell of the Sensuous' by David Abram. In a chapter wherein he reflects on the ecology of magic, he recalls an encounter with a spider while sheltering from the pouring rain in a cave. He observes the arachnid’s precise weaving process, which he metaphorically conceptualized as a dance that astounded him; the spider gradually drawing the lineaments of the web, tying Abram’s focus into each new knot of silk as it moved, weaving his gaze into the ever-deepening pattern.

“... I lost sight of the spider then, and for a while it seemed that it had vanished, thread and all, until my focus rediscovered it. Two more threads now radiated from the center to the floor, and then another; soon the spider began to swing between these as on a circular trellis, trailing an ever-lengthening thread which it affixed to each radiating rung as it moved from one to the next, spiraling outward. …”

Galit Liss: I’M HERE 1. Source: KoresponDance.

When he awoke the next morning, the sun was streaming into the canyon, the grass below rippling with bright blues and greens. He could see no trace of the webs, nor their weavers. As he beautifully described, he had never, since that moment, been able to encounter a spider without feeling a great strangeness and awe.

​​Something similar to the transient but precious encounter with the little spider happened to me the night before during a KoresponDance film screening; another small occurrence yet influential for the beholders. One of the films was At Lake by Mistaya Hemingway, inspired by Maya Deren​’s 1943 film At Land. The opening scene is a long shot capturing a misty, scenic lake. Before a woman appears from the lake - as Deren appeared from the sea - a bird enters the image, hovering over the water. Simultaneously, a swift bird entered the courtyard where we were watching the movie, flying back and forth in front of the screen. It flew as if it were an echo of the bird in the film, as if they were each other's double or mirror image. This poetic overlap of image and reality was another fortunate coincidence to behold, especially since estranging encounters seem the common thread between both films. At Lake, through movement, natural sounds and the music of composer Merewenn Nero, explores the surrealism of Maya Deren’s original work against the lush nature of the Eastern Townships in Quebec. The surrealism mentioned above refers to Deren’s dream-like narrative in which a woman is washed up on a beach and goes on a journey encountering other versions of herself. In collaboration with Red International Film Festival, KoresponDance selected a total of five international films that provide poetic, movement-based answers to questions concerning our relation to ‘water’ and ‘industry’, the dramaturgical outlines of this edition.

While I reflect here on KoresponDance by writing short footnotes to the weather forecast and recalling the precious, unsuspected visits of a bird and a little spider, I realize that most of my memories of the festival are tied to such magical-like elements. In the midst of moving landscapes, they added unique, unforeseen layers to many choreographic practices. In one of the courtyards of the castle, blue chairs painted with white clouds invited you to take a rest now and then. This witty furniture evoked the idiom ‘sitting on cloud nine’, as if to encourage the seated to dream or imagine. However, maybe, if we encourage our bodily senses to be aware enough, the dramaturgy of the unpredictable can be everywhere; nourishing or even transcending our imaginary thinking.

 

Editorial note: This text is written as part of an international writing workshop entitled Writing About Dance (On Body And Mobility). The workshop was a collaboration between Taneční aktuality and Performing Criticism Globally, kindly supported by EEA Grants, and the resulting texts were written in response to productions at this festival. 

Témata článku

Galit LissJosef NadjKoresponDanceMistaya Hemingway

PocketArt

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