Absent – Pressing bodies without deeper immersion

The Archa Theatre premiered the project initiated by Tereza Ondrová and Veronika Kotlíková, whose creative potential has been propelling the VerTeDance group since 2004. The ensemble has a number of awards to their credit, having collected the Female Dancer of the Year award, the Best Light Design award and the Theatre News Award and having produced three Dance Pieces of the Year (2005 –Tichomluva, 2012 – Kolik váží vaše touha?, 2014 – Korekce). It has also achieved success abroad, scoring significantly at this year's festivals in Birmingham and Edinburgh. As much as awards are great, they also impose an obligation in terms of the demands placed on their winners. And when another sought-after colleague is invited to join the successful duo, the demands are even higher – because for its new piece, VerTeDance has engaged the Slovak choreographer and dancer Jaro Viňarský, another acclaimed author and winner of The Bessie Award for Outstanding Performance 2013. Bodies as if on a conveyor belt The new piece Chybění/Absent brings back the theme of a physical handicap, which the VerTeDance ensemble already explored in Simulante Bande (premiered in 2012). But one cannot step twice into the same river. Rather than involving a direct dramaturgical move, social subtext and gradation as Simulante Bande did, in Chybění/Absent we find ourselves in a cold research laboratory: a white dance floor, white background of the stage and a low catwalk on the right. The latter is not meant for perfect models to parade on – gradually, three men and two women enter the stage from behind light-coloured curtains. The catwalk is a magnet of sorts, drawing them closer. Their bodies press against it, adopt various postures on it and begin to perceive one another. The group includes a girl with a missing leg, who attempts to do what the others do but finds out that her artificial left limb is more of a hindrance when fastened, which is why, at a later stage, she takes it off. The bodies shift around the table as if on a conveyor belt, balancing on its edges, falling off and climbing back on.  Legs in the clouds, hands on the ground One of the men edges forward on his nape, finding himself with his legs in the clouds and hands on the ground. When he gets up, his mortal frame seems boneless, forcing him to struggle to find its coherence. At the forefront of the stage, Tereza Ondrová, for her part, performs gentle gusts of her trunk and arms, with the tone of her undulation being set by her body's margins. The motion passes from her fingerprints into her trunk and its centre, her feet cannot lift off the ground. Freed from the hindrance of her artificial limb, Markéta Stránská edges along the floor and others are joining her. With their feet wedged into her armpits, they drag her around the floor; the group is welded together, holding one another and fumbling for balance, and shoots the handicapped girl in the air. Fastened onto one of the men's head, with another man navigating him, for a moment her artificial limb serves as a helmet. All exploration is accompanied by electronic music, mostly roaring pulsation, its rhythm determining no action on the stage. The healthy ones adopt positions and movements from the handicapped girl and, through her mode of movement, want to comprehend what can be limiting for her. Or what, on the contrary, forces her to exceed limits and find new bodily intersections? The choreography, however, seems somewhat tedious and its emotional impact proves to be bland. Working with a handicap is nothing new; for many years, the potential of the physical contact and encounters of healthy and handicapped bodies has been addressed by the British ensemble Candoco (which also gave a guest performance in Archa once). The theme was also exploited to the utmost by Ondrová and Kotlíková in the aforementioned Simulante Bande. Which evokes the question: Why return to it? In the end, noble ruminations about “what could be absent in order that something be left” or “how much must be absent in order that something make sense” remain a mere play with words in the programme, lacking convincing staging content. Chybění/Absent as an apparent or hidden handicap turned out to be an unfulfilled and, in this instance, also overrated plot line. In its hour-long duration, it is probably going to captivate primarily its authors themselves and the performers – their improvisation was one of the main sources of inspiration for the choreography. But there truly is something absent in Chybění/Absent. It gives the impression of raw pressing of the bodies without deeper immersion and clearer meaning.

Written from the premiere on 1 November 2015 in the Archa Theatre. Chybění/Absent Concept and choreography: Jaro Viňarský
Creation and dance: Tereza Ondrová, Markéta Stránská, Jaroslav Ondruš, Marek Menšík and Jan Bárta
Dramaturgy: Jano Zaťko
Stage setting and costumes: Adriana Černá
Light design: Tomáš Morávek
Music: Tomáš Procházka
Premiere: 1 November 2015, Archa Theatre Translation: Petr Štádler

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