—4bid gallery – Critical Writing in Performance from the audience of Highs & Lows – Critical Writing in Performance at 4bid
4bid presents: Highs & Lows #7
Wednesday 18th February
Like the artists in tonight’s program I am a visitor to the dance scene in Amsterdam. For a while I vaguely held to the idea that Europe was broadly more the same in its arts scenes than it was different. People travel to residencies, make work, study, collaborate and show across the union and further abroad, that context was important, but not vital, that localism applied less to the field of dance, and the arts in general, than to say… food. Recently I worked on a performance night in London* that made me wonder if I needed to rethink, to appreciate more that here I am, an outsider on the Amsterdam scene, watching something in a context I don’t really understand. Perhaps I should notice that the work I responded most powerfully to was the work made in London, by a Portuguese artist who has studied in many brilliant places across Europe, but also at Goldsmiths University in London, in a department I know a little…
I love Ana Mendes’ play Self-Portrait. I love the rhythm of her words. The voice of authority she chooses to interrogate her, unseen, from the pre-recorded audio that echoes around the space, above her, behind her, in front of her. He is a man. He is English and he is speaking English, his accent implying that he is well educated, or at least vaguely middle-class and from the South East of England. His voice implies his privilege, his power. He could be an immigration officer, border control, a police officer, or a medical professional. He is an interrogator. He chases her with his questions, tries to trap her, trick her into condemning herself out of confusion, or through sheer boredom at his repetition.
“I believe so.”
“Not as far as I am aware.”
“I have been told so.”
“As I have already told you, that is not the case.”
Mendes’ own voice plays with repetition, with the capacity to say the same thing in in a million ways. There is a deliciously delicate humour in the precision of these replies. I enjoy the way she begins to use her responses to shift the power between her and the disembodied voice. Her words become a poem of sounds and images, of snippets of memories and family stories that disrupt the interrogators’ attempts to steer and shape her. I enjoy her presence alone on the stage, made small by the voice from the speakers above her. I enjoy her words as an act of political and personal resistance, as an act of reclaiming ones own narrative. I watch her. I do not take my eyes off of her.
I am confused by this audience. Not everyone claps. Some people sit silently and inscrutably at the end of the work. Is it because this is a crowd used to gallery spaces? Do they really not like the work? Is this normal for Amsterdam? In London to not clap is to make a statement, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I remember I am a tourist as I try to clap my appreciation even louder.
And then we move. It feels good to move and mark the change between one work and the next. We stand and walk from the black box and disco ball of the theatre space to the white space of the gallery to watch a film that is missing a performer. As a last minute change, Collectf Zwann ei could not come to Amsterdam to present Apnea live and so have instead sent a filmed extract that is projected into this white space, spilling from the wall, onto the floor at my feet. In the film a female performer moves in another white space, her own body projected upon with moving images that disrupt and disintegrates her edges as she moves to stand. Concave, convex, gaping hollows. I think of my partner’s father who sleeps wearing a machine to protect him from his sleep apnea – he stops breathing periodically when he sleeps, causing him to snore and making sleep a slightly dangerous activity.
There is something interesting in the way she moves, there is a butoh edge to her laughing mouth, her concave ribs and standing form. I appreciate the aesthetic beauty of watching her reduced to moving light, of watching her dissolve into the projection upon her body here upon the gallery wall. But yet I can’t help missing her flesh, her bone, her living presence in this small white room.
Bring me by Maktubnoir is the final work of the evening. The program note mentions the “two different paths” of the performers coming together to create something “essential… straightforward without any sophisitication or emotional objective.” As the piece begins I am aware of the very different performance styles of the two performers, and the way in which they deal with the audience. This difference creates a gap between them, an unevenness that creates a slight sense of discomfort in me as a viewer. I am momentarily distracted by recognising the female performer (Elisa Zuppini?) utilising some Flying Low technique in her movement, and am unsure whether this reference is deliberate or not. Is this a reference to one of the stylised schools of movement that the two dancers, seek to pass through in order to reach the essential? The structure of the work suggests so – the two come together, one man, one woman. They physically cross into the central square of the space and meet each other in a pushing, combative contact duet of breath and impact and flow of body on body. This is my favourite moment in the work. Although this image is a familiar one, the energy of it, the giving over to momentum and impulse is really satisfying to watch. Then they are naked and sitting not looking at each other within the square. Bam. Lights out. They take their clothes off so quickly, so suddenly and for such a short moment as to reduce this act to the enactment of a metaphor. Nakedness to signify a lack of artifice, an essentialism. The entire work feels a little like the enactment of a metaphor, a didactic presentation of an idea.
The audience cheers.
Irina from 4bid elegantly addresses us.
I go to the bar to drink tasty Belgian beer and talk about the night. How good it feels to be a tourist once in a while.
Text by Alice MacKenzie