I still remember the date; which is a very odd thing; I am well-known for forgetting dates, birthdays, and namedays, you see; I even forget my own birthday sometimes.
It was the 14th of July, 2009. There was a dance festival at Technopolis – it’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when this kind of event was still happening in Athens; if memory serves right, this one was the International Dance Festival, a festival that was cancelled 2 years later- and one of the performances was NieuZwart ( New Black). The dance was choreographed by the brilliant director, choreographer, actor, and photographer, Wim Vandekeybus, and performed by his dance company Ultima Vez.
It was mindboggingly awesome. But in the real sense of the word, not the “ohmygod, these socks are awesome” one. I remember how tense I felt throughout it, how my jaw kept dropping and I had to force myself to close it every time, so as not to look like a dork. There was video, film, live music, and written text incorporated into the performance. I don’t remember much now. Only that the choreography was incredible; the dancers were brilliant; the music that Mauro Pawlosk, a member of the band Deus, composed and performed live that night, was beautifully woven into the fabric of this piece; and the narrator…
Ehm… Words start to fail me now…
I want to say Impossible.
That’s the word.
Apart from his narration being excellent, and the text – written by the Flemish writer Peter Verhelst- having so much power in and of itself, what that guy did was fucking mental! He would climb up this scaffold, where the musicians sat, then let himself fall on the floor, hard… while narrating. There were times I felt myself at the edge of my seat , wondering how on earth he managed to do that in every performance. Only a mad man would put his mind and his body through such an ordeal. And then repeat it. Again and again.
At some point the performance ended, leaving me breathless and as tense as a tightly drawn wire. To me, it felt as if I had aged 10 years during the past 2 hours. We stood up, exited Technopolis “but we left our guts on the seat” as a friend of mine observed afterwards. We had to go for a drink, we felt we needed alcohol in order to relax and process it all. I remember now how a cockroach, a real fucking huge one, one of these mutated fucking things, flew over my friend’s back; and how much we were freaked out by this. I still cannot believe how hysteric our reaction was. We are both afraid of huge fucking flying cockroaches -who isn’t?- but the hysteria, it’s not really our style. Ok, maybe it is a little bit my style, but I try to be cool in public, I prefer to go on full hysteric mode only when I am certain that nobody is watching.
The hysteria was a physical reaction to this thing we had just watched, this thing that moved and terrified us – I think- in equal measures. Was the performance about love/eros? Was it about death/rebirth? Was there catharsis in the end? I have no fucking clue. Maybe it was the opposite of catharsis – please don’t ask me what the opposite of catharsis might be, I don’t really understand these things. Ioanna Tzartzani wrote at the time of the performance that “interpreted as a “ritual of rebirth”, NieuZwart was inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s amoralist thesis that good and bad end up the same. In respect to that axiom, NieuZwart also deals with the closeness of a beginning to an end, from a philosophical point of view.”
I don’t know if that punch I felt in my stomach was “the closeness of a beginning to an end, from a philosophical pov”. I only know how this perfomance made me feel. This, I can recall vividly. I can feel my heartbeat go faster just by writing this; and it’s 6 in the afternoon, and I haven’t slept for 2 days, so my heartbeat should be slow, right?
We weren’t really able to discuss in depth what we had just watched. I am pretty sure my friends had the same physical reactions – we were all tense and jumpy afterwards – but to this day I don’t know whether these physical reactions were the result of similar thoughts and feelings towards the performance. Sometimes it is difficult to find the correct words to describe what you experienced. You just say “mind=blown” or some other shitty hip phrase and hope that the other person gets it. Your minds could have been blown by very different things. But, in my opinion, this is exactly what makes a work of art – any kind of art – extraordinary: the fact that it succeeds in moving and inspiring so many different people in so many different ways. The experience is personal, unique to each and every one of us. But we all know with absolute certainty that we experienced something pure and true.
A couple of days later, we went to the International Dance Film Festival, and we watched a screening of two films by Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez, “Blush” and “Here After (Puur)”. My friend even managed to talk with Wim Vandekeybus and tell him how she felt after watching NieuZwart (guts on a seat, fuck yeah).
I fell in love with Blush. Everything about it, the dance, the homages to the Orpheus and Eurydice and other myths, the photography, OH MY GOD the music – composed by Woven hand, this time – , everything was beautiful, and it all made sense. I have watched it many times, and it always moves me. I am compelled to provide you with links now, and I strongly recommend that you will download/buy and watch it asap. I would recommend this even to someone who has never watched dance before.
At this point, I should introduce you to the Greek dancer Linda Kapetanea, lead dancer in Rootless Root, and one of the most magical creatures I have ever seen. All her work, both in the Ultima Vez films, and in her own RootlessRoot performances, is absolutely brilliant.
She is the one with the long black hair, by the way.
You can watch the greek trailer for Blush and Here After (Puur), below:
Aaand, this is my favourite choreography in Blush:
Finally, here is a clip from Puur. As creepy and bizarre as it gets. Amazing dance, though.
“There’s a hole in the middle; and it all falls through.”