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Sasha Waltz and Guests, Körper Sasha Waltz and Guests, Körper
photo Bernd Uhlig
SET EACH SUMMER IN THE SWELTERING HEAT OF SANTIAGO CITY IS SANTIAGO A MIL, CHILE’S ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL THEATRE, DANCE AND PERFORMING ARTS FESTIVAL. TRADITIONALLY ‘A MIL’ REFERRED TO THEATRE FOR THE EVERYMAN AT 1000 PESOS—ROUGHLY SPEAKING, FIVE BUCKS. THIS WAS IN THE LATE 1980S DURING THE COUNTRY’S TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY, WHEN THE FESTIVAL WAS CONCEIVED AS A CULTURAL INITIATIVE TRYING TO BURY THE REMNANTS OF THE PINOCHET DICTATORSHIP. TWENTY YEARS ON, ‘A MIL’ NOW CONNOTES THE INTENSITY OF THE EVENT (IT’S COLLOQUIAL FOR ‘FULL ON’) WHICH SPANS A RICH REPERTOIRE OF CONTEMPORARY WORKS PROGRAMMED FOR THEIR REGIONAL, NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE.

The 2009 festival boasted such European artists as Needcompany (Belgium), Sasha Waltz Company (Germany) and Scott Gibbons and Chiara Guidi of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio (Italy). While most international events are off limits to the city’s underprivileged majority, Orbis Vitae by La Fura dels Baus (Spain) and Paraíso by Mauricio Celedon (Chile/France) were staged outdoors, for which spectators gathered in their multitudes: fans, ice and milk crates in hand.

Augustinian Melody, conceived and performed by Scott Gibbons and Chiara Guidi of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, is a sonic performance-installation that draws on the company’s signature themes of attic tragedy and occult imagery, whilst trying to instantiate a new, improvisational stage in their aesthetic. The piece is disconcertingly ambiguous in form, striking a through-line between Happening, trance-like DJ set and archaic incantatory ritual. As its title suggests, Augustinian Melody is primarily an auditory experience, in which a dramaturgy of voice and sound is explored against durational live image and action. An extension of the Cryonic Chants series, the work re-fragments the rhythmic sound score developed by Gibbons for the Tragedia Endogonidia cycle [RT66, p37], in which his defining manipulations of the human voice came to signal the threateningly ghoulish low frequency reverberations of a post-industrial world turned inside out. These vocal threads, already manipulated once, are salvaged in Augustinian Melody and given a more melodic take to position Gibbons’ sound as the central architecture driving the space.

Guidi explains that Augustinian Melody aims to capture a pre-tragic state (the state before the Law, before representation, before the Word) by shifting from image to music and, for the spectator, from eye to ear. The result, darkness, both literally and thematically: the audience enters an intimate concrete studio, and the lights are promptly switched off. At one end, Gibbons unassumingly sounds the space; at the other, Guidi and three other choristers dressed in medieval witch-like gowns enter to summons (or dispel) some kind of ghoul from, it seems, our collective unconscious. The women incant (in Italian and Spanish) while ripping black fabric to reveal a pile of rocks (a grave?) that they then pull apart with increasing fervour. Their actions are chaotic, their words, mesmeric. One phrase I understand: Mi Dispiace (I’m sorry). I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. For whose crime, and on whose behalf, do they apologise? The rocks seem to be hiding the absent dead body for which we all, as global citizens (especially tourists like me), are unwittingly responsible. Against their whispered repetitions, Gibbons’ electroacoustic rumbles, buzzes and booms palpitate to suggest that we are both present and past, technocratic and ancient. As the artists tread a fine line between performative acts of magic and the magic of performance, I wonder when this ghoul will be exorcised.

Körper by German Sasha Waltz Company is a comparably large-scale dance theatre work devised around a thematic exploration of the body. Structured in a series of non-linear vignettes, the pre-show performance comically situates acts of bodily disappearance and reappearance as central to the work’s logic. Intermittent white noise animates hands, arms and legs that peer disconnectedly through an invisible upstage partition—a bodily puppet show, in which the body is puppet and puppeteer combined. The stage partition, in slow light, is revealed to be a stark 10 metre high wall that cuts across the space in a geometry of sparseness and precision. In later images, this wall will become an ominous imposition in scenes suggestive of chase, death and trauma and will gloriously frame semi-naked bodies as they float into its lens from up high, curling and piling flesh on flesh, as if suspended from gravity only to fill out the ultimate renaissance image. Finally and unexpectedly the wall will fall, thunderous and triumphant, in a reference not unobvious to a German audience, opening the stage depth into a black, Zen-like cavern.

Körper is concerned with the multiple historical, scientific and artistic lenses through which the body is understood. Its dancers assemble rigorous group choreographies that poetically render themes of mechanisation (against sonic punctuations of a printing press-cum-steam-train), or references to archaic, Persian ritual (with circular patterns moving across the now sloping but horizontal wall). In these moments, the work is sculptural, creating scenographies that reference key moments in the image repertoire of the 20th century. Waltz conducted rehearsals in the Jewish Museum Berlin, itself a tangled mnemonic structure architecturally bending with weight. The shapes of this original space, as well as the sometimes stringent physicalities of the performers, have absorbed the museum’s imprints, catching us as watchers within a choreographic memory of a memory of The Event. At other times, the dancers are confrontingly informal. They pinch each other; jesting, they narrate stories of plastic surgery, organ transplant, and cancer; they draw around and on their bodies; and they make animalesque assemblages, pairs swaggering as gender-bent creatures. While Körper is not sombre, its ghouls are everpresent—well placed in Santiago city, 20 years on from its horrendous past.


Santiago a Mil: Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, Augustinian Melody, original music, direction, performance Scott Gibbons, Chiara Guidi, Lastarria, Jan 6-8; Sasha Waltz and Guests, Körper, direction Sasha Waltz, design Thomas Schenk, Heike Schuppelius, Sasha Waltz, costumes Bernd Skodzig, music Hans Peter Kuhn, lighting Valentin Gallé, Martin Hauk, performance Sasha Waltz dancers, Theatre Municipal, Santiago, Jan 5-6

RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009 pg. 10

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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