December 10, 2013
Dancing from tombs to wide-open skies
Avant-garde directors tackle the taboos of contemporary society
This week, the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires offered two Belgian shows where the body is at the core of the creation: Preparatio Mortis (at Teatro San Martín) and 32 Rue Vandenbranden (at Teatro Presidente Alvear). They could be labelled dance pieces, but the first could also be defined as a “performance” and the second as a theatre production.
Preparatio Mortis was created by Troubleyn/Jan Fabre, the same company that presented, last weekend, The Power of Theatrical Madness. Fabre is a multidisciplinary visual artist, playwright, stage director, choreographer and designer. He is a very controversial creator and his productions are always provoking and groundbreaking. While The Power... lasted four hours and a half and was performed by many dancers/actors, as a sort of balance, Preparatio... is a solo, performed by Annabelle Chambon, which lasts only 50 minutes. Fabre usually tackles the taboos of contemporary society: in this case, the taboo of death.
“It is precisely through death that we learn to look at life differently. Death forces a fuller, more intense vision of life upon us — I constantly strive for a post-mortem stadium of life,” says Fabre. In Preparatio... the “theatre of death,” that is, all the “staging” around death we are used to witnessing at funerals, goes as far as imagination can reach. A tomb (a glass case) is covered with a gigantic blanket with yellow, red, purple and white flowers. The colourful quilt “breathes” rhythmically while a hand, then an arm, a head and two bare feet appear. Annabelle Chambon, an extraordinary dancer, seems to rise from the dead. Death becomes a positive energy and she begins to move, at times softly and windingly, at times convulsively, and some other times like an insect or an animal.
The floor around the glass case is also full of flowers and Chambon interacts the whole time with them. Preparatio... is quite a sensory piece: the suffocating odour of the myriad of flowers (the typical odour of funerals) is felt from the auditorium seats. Suffocation is also felt when the naked dancer moves inside the transparent tomb in a very dim light, butterflies flying around, also inside the case. The organ music, composed by Bernard Foccroulle, gives the whole performance a sacred, ritual atmosphere.
On the other hand, 32 Rue Vandenbranden’s story takes place in an open place under a wide-open sky, in a snowy mountain landscape with rickety mobile homes for shelter and big windows for viewers to take a peek inside. Coincidentally, the name of the company that created this piece is Peeping Tom, directed by Argentina’s Gabriela Carrizo, who resides in Belgium, and Franck Chartier. This new production deals with the intimacy generated in those spaces, which are not totally closed to the outside world, as is the case in camping tents.
Films are an important reference for this company; indeed one of the sources of inspiration for this piece was Shohei Imamura’s film The Ballad of Narayama. The title corresponds to the street where some company members live in Brussels, and the idea was to deal with community issues. In this fiction, the story revolves around a small, isolated community where the inhabitants, confronted with loneliness, live under their own rules. In fact, one of the most attractive aspects of this piece is the way it stretches the boundaries of theatre, dance or any fiction with rules of its own, like a different game each time. 32 Rue... is, indeed, very playful, and every scene is totally unpredictable, because the company works with absurd, oneiric elements. There’s also some illusionism and magic tricks thrown in for good measure. The result is a fascinating, enigmatic plot woven through the relationships between the characters (who almost don’t speak), full of humour but moving and tragic at the same time. There are also references to horror B-movies, frightening and laughable at once.
The performers are really exceptional, but their virtuosity is at the service of exposing the mental and emotional state of their characters. Borrowing a term from cinema, Carrizo defines this as “zoom in” on their consciousness. In this sense, “The borders between what happens in reality and what they believe that happens in reality are blurred.”