Originally written for DRAFF magazine, text reproduced below:
Curated by Danai Pappa | Chisenhale Dance Space | Fiver Fridays | 25.05.2018
Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi, A Tree Without Leaves
Danai Pappa & Neal Spowage, Ariel Ariel
anthologyofamess, All These Environments in Which We Have Existed for a Hundred and Fifty Years
Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi presents herself alone on the deep stage. A Tree Without Leavesis a choreography of relatively opaque gestures; but pretty direct references to motherhood, miscarriage and heartbreak emerge. It’s mournful dance, with a clear feeling of psychic anguish and loss. Within this private landscape, there are some exquisite moments that transfix: she reaches the back wall, on which a large sheet of paper is mounted, and paints a bold, shocking, delicious line in black ink; she’s on the floor, doing some sort of robot impression that’s utterly charms; and a parting image of her slowly crossing the stage while bearing a large bare tree branch.
We see the figure of the abandoned woman, the ruined woman, the hysterical woman; but it’s undertaken with a continual anxious dance-y-ness. It’s most noticeable as a strange flair with which she sometimes performs even the most practical of actions; not seeming to be driven by her own pleasure as much as in some need to entertain her audience. I’ve neither the right, nor the interest, in deciding what this artist should or shouldn’t be doing (particularly in such a personal performance): but I’m disturbed this dynamic. This figure plays out a spectacle of personal pain for us without any ever really addressing our watching, yet with a quiet kinetic ornamentation that seeks to please. Is this ritual a very ‘genuine’ process for the performer of exorcising a personal trauma? If so: what is our role here, as spectators? Do we need to be here: and if so, how much should we expect — or need — to understand or be entertained?
In Danai Pappa and Neal Spowage’s duet Ariel Ariel, the two artistsconstruct rudimentary games from rough and scrappy materials. Beginning by dynamically transforming the space by drawing lines of electrical tape across the stage, they chase one another around a crude obstacle course; ducking and jumping at opposite sides of a circle. It’s stupid and delightful and I find myself grinning. They stop; and activate two small noise-making robots. They seem to change pitch according to proximity and touch, but not in any sort of consistent way. The performers try to develop a sort of game out of this, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Things are left to gently collapse. They finish with a blackout, Spowage illuminating Pappa with a bare light bulb. She comes into our sight, and poses; he whips his hand away to plunge her into darkness.
There’s a pleasurable relaxedness towards their differences across all this: differences of gender expression, in the ways they move, in how they relate to both the stage and their audience. These games are a way for the collaborators to test one another, to offer new ways of perceiving this pair. But the games themselves are rarely tested, and are let fade away at the first chance. I notice my curiosity towards what might happen if they stuck to some things; to test or complexify these choreographic structures; to see what they might make possible or impossible. To create a problem, to get stuck; to be forced to find solutions, to find new strategies to persist or escape.
The highlight of the evening comes in the exquisite opening to anthologyofamess’ All These Environments in Which We Have Existed for a Hundred and Fifty Years. Four bodies are slumped in a corner at the base of a heap of tangled clothes. They slump forwards, over and across one another; pulling, tugging, shrugging. There’s absolutely no rush, but the prone bodies avoid any sense of lethargy. Each performer manages to remain limp and floppy – something to be pulled, used, grabbed, hugged – yet moves themselves forward with a casual impulsiveness. Fleshy, material bodies contort with a sophisticated ease. It’s delicious: I could have watched it for hours. I wanted the floor to extend further and further and further; and then to run out, but for them to continue on anyway – off the stage, down the corridor, through a doorway, down some stairs, in and out, around, through, over and between.
And then it ends. They get up, they separate, they dance. Fleeting gestures appear. One runs to the other side of the stage; another joins them; they fall out, forward, back, sideways. It’s sort of a generic improvisation: what strikes me is the evident and huge skill of each of these performers. There’s a clear sense of just how long these people have been dancing, how long one needs to have dedicated to improvisatory practices in order to get this good. And it’s sort of like watching a band — the pleasure of watching people I love and admire rocking out. Or to be more precise: like hanging out at a folk music session, of sitting around in a pub and listening with a relaxed ease; a sense of porosity and togetherness and coming and going. It’s a marked shift from the choreographic specificity and distance of the rolling intro; neither mode is necessarily a problem, or to be preferred, but I’m not sure how successfully they synthesized or reconciled these very different relationships of spectating.
Anyway. It was a nice evening – sunny, full of peers to hug and share a drink with and sit beside and watch. Chisenhale Dance Space remains one of the few bastions of experimentation dance in London in which artists can show new work. Between and across these moments of pleasure and confusion and disappointment, it’s easy to see how this space much more directly serves the interests of independent artists than the ‘development opportunities’ — better funded but much more deeply conservative — of the larger dance institutions.