Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane, Italian Cultural Institute, November 28

Elena Giannotti

Elena Giannotti in Lo Sguardo del Cane (photo: Eamonn O’Mahony)

Like the two works shown at Trip Space a few days before as part of Intercontinental Drifts (which also programs work at the Italian Cultural Centre), Elena Giannotti’s solo, Lo Sguardo del Cane (‘the dog’s gaze’), is engaging, playful, and experimental. But what Giannotti achieves with a calmness of demeanour and smoothness of motion is a sense of choreography as language that can communicate on a broad, cross art form level. She takes her point of departure from a painting by the renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio of Saint Augustine in his study looking out at a spectral image of Saint Jerome. There is a small white dog seated on the floor that appears to be looking in the same direction as Saint Augustine but Carpaccio deliberately leaves the viewer in doubt as to whether its gaze is directed toward its master or past him at the ghostly vision (according to legend, Saint Jerome has just communicated with Saint Augustine his own imminent death).

With no musical accompaniment, Giannotti employs equal dexterity and ambiguity towards the movement of her own gaze. She stops quite still at various moments in her performance, staring intently at an undefined point in space; we might attempt to follow that line of vision, but we can also watch her in the act of seeing, just as we study Saint Augustine’s posture as he looks out of the window. We cannot see what he sees, but we know from his rapt attention that he has seen something. And just at the point we take in Giannotti’s still gaze, she begins to move again and our focus changes to the completeness of her expression, to the reiteration of phrases and to her accumulating vocabulary. Certain expressions stand out, like an impatient gesture of the hand or a petulant kick towards an unseen object, and as the choreography progresses we begin to recognize and acknowledge the return of repeated phrases. The effect is one of cinematic montage, of overlapping sections or phrases punctuated with the still gaze. Giannotti sketches scenes with the outlines of figures and expressions, fragments of larger stories of which we only get a glimpse; the moment we recognize them they disappear and overlap with other ones, like impalpable phantoms. As Giannotti repeats them, however, each fragment becomes more distinctive, the contours and features more intelligible to our eyes, filling all our senses with the impression of the movement and its afterimages.

Gaze thus becomes an action not only of the eyes but of the entire body. The direction of our eyes reflects the attention of our entire physiognomy, which is why the eyes are so important in choreographic use. If the eyes look in a direction that the rest of the body does not support, we are not convinced. This is as true for a suggestive glance, a coy aside or a political speech. Giannotti takes all these kinds of glances and freely distributes them in the space she is occupying, allowing her body to flow through her eyes. It is a spatial dialogue which, by the force of its argument and her sense of being ever present keeps our attention, even more acutely as there is no sound apart from the ambient noise of the audience in the room and of traffic outside in the street. There is a temporal sense involved, too. Giannotti’s patterns and traces overlap in space and in one sense are sequential, but like early twentieth-century experimentation with cinematic montage, each pattern or trace can be seen occurring in the same moment, overlapping in time. Giannotti compounds this by running in to the room at the beginning and spinning out at the end, suggesting all that happens in between occurs within a single moment of timeless concentration like a daydream or a vision. Which takes us back to Saint Augustine and his dog experiencing, in their separate but interwoven ways, the beatific apparition of Saint Jerome.

La Veronal: Voronia

Posted: November 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on La Veronal: Voronia

La Veronal, Voronia, Dance Umbrella at Sadler’s Wells, October 20

La Veronal in a scene from Voronia (photo © Josep Aznar)

La Veronal in a scene from Voronia (photo © Josep Aznar)

If the old paradox is correct that there is no theatre without a spectator, what exactly is the role of the spectator? One writer who develops the idea of the relationship between the choreographer/performance on the one hand and the spectator on the other is French philosopher Jacques Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator. Rancière begins by positing two difficulties about being a spectator. ‘First, viewing is the opposite of knowing: the spectator is held before an appearance in a state of ignorance about the process of production of this appearance and about the reality it conceals. Second, it is the opposite of acting: the spectator remains immobile in her seat, passive. To be a spectator is to be separated from both the capacity to know and the power to act.’ To overcome such difficulties Rancière positions the spectator differently in relation to the performance by recognizing his or her active knowledge and agency, what he calls the ‘emancipated spectator’. He compares this to a teacher-pupil relationship in which the pupil will learn not what the teacher knows but what the teacher can encourage the pupil to discover what he or she doesn’t yet know. In this sense the role of a choreographer is similar to that of a good teacher. Pina Bausch allows us to make our own discoveries through her open-ended imagery, whereas Marcos Morau, the artistic director of La Veronal, whose new production, Voronia Dance Umbrella presented this season, is keen to have us understand something he is passionate about: in this case, the concepts of evil and religion.

Last year Dance Umbrella presented the company’s Siena which embodied Morau’s take on art and the human body in the seductive setting of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In Voronia Morau has conceptually moved his world of darkness and evil to the deepest cave in the world, Krubera Voronia in the western Caucasus but the stage set is neither deep nor dark: designer Enric Planas has contrived what looks like a convention-centre setting for the last supper: a table laid for a feast in a banqueting room with its red carpet and scalloped beige curtains hiding a steel cargo elevator that doubles as an operating theatre. As we take our seats we see the company dressed in white overalls meticulously cleaning the carpet with vacuum cleaners, buckets of water, sponges and mops while a young boy (Jared Irving) dressed as a waiter looks out at the audience. Above the stage is projected the Latin phrase, ‘In girum imus nocte ecce et consumimur igni’, a riddle in the form of a palindrome that means ‘we wander in the night and are consumed by fire.’

In the program note, Morau invokes the philosophies of Saint Augustine to state that in the same way that darkness is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good. According to Morau, ‘humanity created God to secure the boundaries of morality; God serves as the keeper of goodness and a moral refuge for humankind. But in the hands of man, religion has gone to seed. For to kill in the name of God is to kill God and the absolute moral system.’ (As I write Paris is under a state of emergency following the terrorist attacks). In its printed form this is a cogent argument — a one-on-one with the reading spectator. But what happens when it is translated into the layered imagery of the stage with its surtitled text, visual imagery, dance, operatic music and spoken word? More importantly, what happens to the relationship between performance and spectator? In such a hybridization of media in the service of such a rational argument, it appears Morau and his dramaturgs Roberto Fratini and Pablo Gisbert have meticulously prepared all the translation and interpretation in advance, leaving the spectator to unravel an intellectual puzzle in which he or she wanders passively through a bewildering set of images to return at the end, for want of clarification, to the printed proposal. Part of the problem is that some elements of the layering do not read in the theatrical space — it is difficult to take in the texts of Saint Augustine while watching the action below, for example — and others, like the choreographic language cloned from the idiosyncratic Manuel Rodriguez or the soundscape that devolves from a heartbeat into a series of rousing opera choruses are not developed sufficiently to make them integral to the creative arc. But the major problem is the withdrawal of control from the spectator by the creator. It is like a teacher whose determination to inculcate his knowledge leaves no room for the pupil to learn.