Sunday, 11 September 2011

Karlovac Dance Festival #3

4th September – 45o 29’ 12” Karlovac/ Hotel Korana/ so quite new a thing/ Duet #1

Created during the festival week, Avâtara Ayuso's 45o 29’ 12” Karlovac was a duet inspired by the Croatian city.

In silence two females faced front motionlessly before shaking their bodies with accelerating gusto. Then, using only a few simple dance movements – stamping, positioning the arms overhead, pelvic thrusts – the choreography was created through constant repetition with differing directions and speeds. As the dancers’ movements became more forceful and their breathlessness increasingly evident, the piece built its momentum up to an anticlimactic conclusion where the performers simply and abruptly walked offstage.

A second premiere was dance film Hotel Korana by Sebastian Rietz. To the sounds of ‘Shame’ by Herbst in Peking, Alejandra Baňo’s crumpled her petite figure with anguish amidst the war-torn architecture of the once-famous hotel. But eventually she triumphed and escaped her heartless enclosure, walking away, letting go and finding serene liberation from pain.

Ayuso's self-performed solo so quite new a thing was a disconcertingly sexy portrayal of female physicality. Commencing topless with her back to the audience, Ayuso wriggled and curled, with low lighting accenting the working of her every muscle. Then, with projected screen close ups of body parts, from a shoulder to toes, the dancer guardedly dressed herself before turning to the audience and proceeding downstage.

Avatara Ayuso
Photo: Karlovac Dance Festival
Ayuso articulated her feet, floated her hands like feathers and romped about the floor with such visceral sexual magnetism, I thought she might, at any moment, spontaneously reach orgasm. Exploring the body’s erotic potential, she seemed possessed by an intense carnal electricity which fuelled her movement and connected her to the audience. Inspired by a poem by E. E. Cummings, the choreography was accompanied by speech, notably the repetition of ‘flesh’ and ‘I like my body’. Ayuso is a delightful dancer, able to embody both elasticity and roughness with power and conviction; her so quite new a thing was irresistibly alluring.

The final live work was Duet #1, a collaboration between festival organiser Melita Spahic and Greece-based dancer and choreographer Rowan Thorpe.

Dancers appeared to be gripped by madness. Thorpe moved as if possessed by an imaginary but violently controlling force. At times, he seemed hallucinatory, acting out the personas of a rock star, boxer and John Travolta among others. Contrasting were Spahic’s restrained movements, which arched, coiled and rolled on the floor with a feeling of disorientation.

The sounds of unobtrusive mutterings and then a frustratingly broken Skype conversation added depth to the choreography. A background projection had performers sitting almost motionlessly as if waiting nervously for important medical results.

Unbelievably, Spahic and Thorpe put together the work via email, creating short segments at a time and sending them online to each other for feedback. Duet #1 was engaging, distressing and yet beautifully moving portrayal of two people’s inner mental turmoil.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Karlovac Dance Festival #2

1st September – Entry/ modulo4vortice/ Higikaria

The evening opened with Entry, a choreography by New Zealand-born Nadine MacLean and UK-based Hanna Tatham. Commencing without music, dancer Bianca Hopkins walked slowly along a central line of light. Eyes gazed downwards, she felt disconnected and troubled, as if seeking to find explanation for her existence in the silence. Then, accompanied by MacLean, the two dancers repeatedly curled and spiralled as the almost enchanting beat of Dominic Frasca's solo guitar began.

The performers' partnership was one of opposition, with Hopkins' earthiness contrasting MacLean's verticality. Alternating between intimidating, ignoring and encouraging each other, their shared dynamic was both interesting and powerful; more exploration of the complex relationship could have added to the piece. Entry was a charming and engaging creation which left me enticed and wanting more.

Spanish Avâtara Ayuso's self-performed modulo4vortice film used editing techniques to great effect to playfully contort the viewer's understanding of physical laws. With slow and fast motion and Ayuso appearing to defy gravity, the film was a fun experiment to challenge common sense.

Basque person Atxarte Lopez de Munain showed extracts from her 2008 work inspired by Jorge Oteiza's sculpture Par Móvil. In Higikaria (or 'Mobile behaviour'), two dancers, including Lz. de Munain, moved with suspension and resistance, counterbalancing each other as if inhabiting an imaginary sphere. Frequently reaching a point of near-falling, they appear to be testing the shape's capacity whilst alternately forming intimidating, angular positions. Alongside a mixed and sinister-feeling soundscape, with noises resembling water glugging, a snake hissing and the rumble of a distant thunderstorm, their every movement was restricted, suffering premature ending before completion. Later, with only barefooted steps on the dance floor proving rhythmical accompaniment, movements were able to unfold, broaden and conclude. The provocative implication was that the music was curbing the dancers' wingspans rather than the walls of their invisible globe.

Interspersed with film clips of the original performance, the live dancing lost momentum each time it stopped and restarted, although performers were, with their vigour, able to gradually rebuild the drama. The piece reached a powerful end as Lz. de Munain took refuge in floor-bound movements, making a final weighty surrender to the ground.

2nd September – Voće & Povrće/ Patriot/ 1716 (broj/the number) Solo for Vera

Four students from Karlovac's dance school, Studio 23, commenced the programme with Voće & Povrće, a choreography by Vere Mitrović. Wearing brightly coloured pants over white body suits and appearing to strut along a catwalk, they seemed to question body image expectations in a media-obsessed society. Rolling their heads and shaking their hips with a forced prowess, they mocked the need to be conform before donning skirts, exchanging their daring for modesty and simultaneously shifting their movement to a more free-flowing style.

Dancers were highly energetic; they repeatedly jumped high and landed in awkward balances during a pacey routine that left little room to relax. Changing formation frequently and demonstrating good unison showed these students to be skilled young performers.

James Finnemore's self-performed Patriot investigated the mundane elements of life. With a voiceover expressing 'This is how he expects everything to be', and plunges into darkness, Finnemore navigated the stage with his shoulders drooped forwards, as if resigned to a less than satisfactory fate. Through army-like crawling, childish skipping and moments of utter stillness, the choreography studied the monotonies of daily trials with increasing exhaustion and frustration. Its abrupt end as the solo dancer walked precipitously offstage while music continued to sound left a puzzled feeling as to the choreographer's conclusion on his subject matter.

From the UK, Finnemore moved with extraordinary fluidity; every part of his body was co-ordinated as one and his frequent falls to the floor were made with such lightweight smoothness as to render them beautifully discreet.

Festival organiser Melita Spahic's collaboration with dancer Vere Mitrović explored the performer's personality and her long-held association with the number 23. (Specifically, her dance studio – Studio 23 – was opened 23 years ago when she was aged 23.)

In simple white dungarees, Mitrović commenced centre-stage, sanding an upturned table whilst also directly addressing the audience in Croatian. She then roamed the stage, walking and jogging, in circular patterns, continuing her monologue. Her athletic physique was apparent as she sauntered about the floor from staunch held plank positions to cobra-like back extensions. Musician Goral Ilić provided intermittent lyrical guitar accompaniment, as well as occasionally vocally interjecting to question the dancer. The choreography developed as Mitrović surrounded the table with newspapers and began to paint it – a reference to the career she would have liked in furniture-making were she not a performer. Whilst the number 23 was repeatedly mentioned, its influence on the choreography was indefinite. As lights went down, Ilić asked one final question in Croatian, to which Mitrović's answer received scores of amused chuckles. It was 'what is your favourite number?' to which she replied simply '11'.

3rd September – Refrakcije/ 3-adic

Refrakcije (or Refraction) had no clear beginning; one minute sitting on a large red beanbag and whispering to each other, the next the two performers were walking in circles and the piece seemed to have begun. With understatement they sang about women in colourful dresses who drink tea, work all night and wear silk stockings among other things, while creating rhythm through body slaps and clicks. Bruno Isaković then began a lengthy monologue in Croatian, operating rather like an eccentric inventor promoting his latest creation while Ana-Maria Bogdanović attempted to distract him through disturbingly violent attacks from kicking to aggressively launching herself at him and twisting his arm.

Photo: Karlovac Dance Festival
 The metaphor for male-female relations was clear. She sought dominance and he resisted. It felt like we were caught up in an awkward marital confrontation normally kept behind closed doors. Later, the woman began her own whimsical mutterings, while the man endeavoured to gain attention; he danced and blew up numerous red balloons with irritating pushiness and then passed them to her to hold in between toes, under her neck and in other awkward places, thereby rendering her immobile. It felt like a task Supernanny Jo Frost would set on her television show to demonstrate the burden of wifely responsibilities.

Although the gender metaphor was overplayed, this bemusing piece was faithful to its title in the way it explored the refraction of human relationships. At the very least, it deserves praise for its highly original methods of expression.

Avâtara Ayuso's energetic trio took a more conventional approach to choreography. 3-adic investigated colour and shape with three females performing to the varying speeds of a forceful tick-tock beat. With athletic lifts, sharp head turns and dancer faces baring ferociously stern expressions, the piece felt confrontational and threatening.

Ayuso's choreography is exquisitely detailed and highly technically-challenging. Through high leg extensions, flexed feet and deep knee bends, she was able to explore a variety of contemporary forms but overall the piece felt a little stunted.

Karlovac Dance Festival #1

29th August – opening night improvisation

Karlovac Dance Festival's opening night took place in the beautiful tree-lined surrounds of an open-air bar beside the river. A film of a solo dancer switching on and off a low-hanging light and contorting herself formed the backdrop. From merry chatting at tables, the all female cast of eight took to the performing space, transforming themselves from light-hearted friends enjoying a sociable evening to almost robotic dancers with intimidatingly unwavering intention.

Improvising their movements, performers followed a set of unspoken rules. A poisonous grope of the neck caused a tumble to the floor; a soft kiss enabled the body to reawaken. The repetition of austere crucifix shapes followed by gentle embraces was captivating. The cast seemed to have a shared tacit understanding and focus, penetrable to no one but themselves.

A sudden end was reached as dancers stood still before silently returning to their seats and resuming their noisy muttering, feeling once again human, animated and carefree.

30th August - Refleksije Idola

Refleksije Idola was screened for the Festival's second evening. With choreography by Vere Mitrović, the piece included an eclectic mix of styles from lyrical to jazzy and tribal.

Commencing on a dark stage, the white-costumed cast of 11 appeared like otherworldly creatures. Filmed from a distance, the individual identity of dancers was lost, and instead their alien-like shapes created a haunting, faraway image.

To tribal beats, dancers threw themselves around the stage with raw, animalistic passion, contrasting energetic elevation with weighty stamps and spinal twists. Later, performers appeared to be experiencing a religious epiphany, moving with serene elasticity to throaty vocals resembling a call to prayer.

The choreography lacked significance as a whole, but as a showcase for student dancers, it demonstrated excellently the young Croatians' great versatility and vivacity.