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December 8, 2022

Aesthetics of absentees

The word is in crisis. And not since recently. Following millennial claims of a privileged condition, firstly based on the canonisation of specific sacred texts, following the various waves of humanism upholding the virtues of the cultivated person, capable of mastering the art of persuasive rhetoric, following the planetary success of ideologies – many have already declared the times when societies were based on the force of words set. Since democracy and demagogy are step brothers, we have become used to relativising the influence of the mass of words that surrounds us. It is exactly this crisis, with deep political roots, that makes us more alert to the new aesthetic rhetoric of contemporary dance. An aesthetic that had radically risen against the old rules of the ballet, whose ritualised grace fitted so nicely societies rotten by conformism and exhibiting ‘dreamy’ sets designed to conceal the greyish dramatic quotidian.

The nude walls of a hall (which can be a cage or an arena, shed or industrial facility), musical; hits just good to mock at, common, childish and hilarious gestures (such as spitting upwards), the satire of the new body ‘self-control’ rituals (with their promises of mental salvation), the so familiar images of a TV talk show, but most of all the chaotic incoherence of an existential path – here are the ingredients of the new choreographic experiments. Dance has become conceptual and, surprisingly, it sometimes gives the impression that, in that way, it reproduces everyday life better than anything else. Although initially it may look like some abstract improvisation, like a drug of impolite sabotage of building the real. In ‘Solo progress’, Cristian Nanculescu manages to speak convincingly about time, not just by assembling a domino of pieces as different as the memory can be random, but mainly by doubling the sequence of movements by using distinct tempos. Suggesting in that way that, without knowing the adequate rhythm of temporality, there is a risk of implosion of subjective ness. Inspired is also the presence of a double (Nicoleta Moise accompanies him mute on stage, and reproduces his movements only in part), like some Sancho Panza (more retrained than his master) next to a new Don Quixote wandering the phantasms of contemporary quotidian, making gestures that are searching not necessarily for authenticity or expressiveness per se, but rather for the force of communication with oneself and the others, words once had.
Carmen Lidia Vidu, on the other hand, tried not to replace words, but to extend them into movements. She started from a classical dramatic text, ‘The Seagull’ by Chekhov, staking on an acting declamation with a nuance of dated pathetism (in the spirit of typical post-modern badinage), on a multimedia concept or a mix of genres (an opera soprano, dancers, a ‘post-rock’ guitarist). The video projection used as visual background for the ‘drama’ (it’s just the last act of Chekhov’s play, closing with a suicidal) imposes a sliding perspective on the universe of that fetish-bird, from suaveness to threat, from freedom to grotesque, from tension to failure. The dance elements, however, constitute the support pillar of the show and they start from the choreography of classical ballet for a reason. The two performers (Ioana Marchidan and Istvan Teglas) look like figurines of medieval mechanisms, with the discrete, yet essential difference of ‘holds’ – the way in which they each get hold of each other’s body – in a register of extreme sensitiveness. Apart from the programming of moves (propagation of moves specific of automated machines), proving existences that are unable to impose a new route, this register of attempts to save the other from successive falls develops, trying to ‘catch’ one another. But it’s just a postponed tragic feeling.
Sometimes even in this contemporary inflation of words, some stories that remain untold for a long time can capture attention in the most unexpected way. This is what Mihaela Michailov and Paul Dunca counted on when they proposed the ‘After Trajan and Decebalus. From the pages of gay history in Romania’ show. Almost a form of documentary-theatre that sometimes manages to speak about communism and post-communism much more convincingly than more head-on approaches do. Because survival tactics of a prohibited community illustrate more faithfully than pretended conflicts of principles the concrete character of this specific mixture of repression, ambiguous tolerance, risky ventures, compromise and mediums claiming to be alternatives – a combination with moving borders that was the quotidian for a number of generations. It is worth remembering that the road from communism to capitalism has travelled, among other spots, through the extremely selective access to fetish Western items which, too many, decided the interior detachment from the much more insipid local universe.
Who are the absentees who, in such large numbers, even if young, refuse to express their political option in elections? Many of them find themselves in the chaotic moves bursting with irony of contemporary dance more than in the candidates’ poisoned demagogy. Many prefer ‘methodical doubt’ of contemporary art to the badly concealed authoritarianism of so many political leaders. The absentee is more inclined to believe in the truth of those a conformist society is unable to defend for fear of unpopularity and moral discomfort. A former political friend of French President Francois Hollande’s recounts that he stopped giving him credit when, visiting him at home, he realised that he almost had no books. Remember the savoury character played by Toni Servillo in the Italian ‘Viva la liberta’ movie, the philosopher who replaces his twin brother who is a politician and behaves with the naturalness of an authentic intellectual in the election campaign. How many of the candidates we have today have seen a contemporary dance performance? And how many went to a pro-gay play without raising their eyebrows? Here is the simple explanation for the fact that we have so many young absentees.

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