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Live blogging from the NEU NOW festival (3)

20 November 2009

Eliisa Erävalo

Dance in the pocket hall

What a day. Where to begin? Let's start at the end. We were packed together in the smaller hall of the Arts Printing house, appropriately called the 'pocket hall'. People were sitting on the floor to see the dance. Well that's nothing odd in informal settings, and I like the touch of underground or living-room performance it gives to our EU-logo-laden festival. (Anthony Dean tells me they also do it in the State Opera here in Vilnius, it's part of the local folklore that people will use every aisle or step to sit on and "fully booked" is a malleable expression.) If the festival wasn't free we'd be selling out.

As we're squeezing ourself through the corridor up to the pocket hall - three times to and fro, you have to leave between performances - on our left size the wall is glass, and there is a side room on the other side, the floor full of pillows many colours, and a girl eating an apple. It seems a performance of its own. Unfortunately my camera ran out of power so I couldn't snap it. (Adina, though, has been busily shooting pictures as ever: see her NeuNow album at http://picasaweb.google.com/adinaluncan)

This is about somebody else

The first thing to bear in mind about last night's performances is that dance is not dance. Noha Ramadan, Javier Blanco Chiocchio and Eliisa Erävalo each found their own way to dance without dancing. This is about somebody else, is the telling title of Eliisa's piece. The first thing she does is to strap herself in tape. "Uh oh. I can't move." Then she starts telling what she would have done if she had been able to move. It starts rather innocently, with a lifted shoulder and some basic moves, but soon enough the performance that did not take place becomes an orgy of actionist art, blood, nakedness, gross gluttony, barbies and ninja turtles having group sex, and in the end, some airplanes. Well maybe what she could do is lie on the floor - and that she does.

But of course, dancers can't help dancing even if they're not dancing. So in the end, she unstraps herself and starts moving. But even then, the power is in the small gesture. We see her moaning on her knees to "candle in the wind", in a silent all-out facial contortion. At one point she lies down again, back upon the audience, makes a duck face with her right hand, and makes the duck face perform a playback ballet to Britney Spears' "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman", all the while lying still on the ground and moving nothing but her right arm. Yes this is ironical but it's also a serious emotional display - at this point it's beyond seriousness and irony maybe. This is about somebody else.

In the end, we're invited to ask questions. Or rather, not to ask questions and give comments at all, because it's always so awkward. Try to sound smart and appear either negative or uncritical. Maybe we'd better all hold hands and close our eyes for ten seconds, and then ask our question together. Any questions? No. Thank you.

Dream of death

At some point during her monologue, Eliisa also mentions an Argentinian she met yesterday, who said it's so easy to make a happy person feel sad, and even easier to make a sad person feel sad. This is improvisation because she really met an Argentinian the day before, and it's Javier Blanco Chiocchio. After the horrors Eliisa described, what Javier does to himself in Dream of death seems mild by comparison. Well but he really does it. Suffice to say that he mentions Marina Abramovich and Joseph Beuys as his sources of inspiration, and you won't be surprised to see him with a plastic bag over his face.

Dream of Death

Maybe what happens after that is afterlife. There is an apple, there is a knife, there is a razor, there is blood, there is white paint, there is a rose, and then there is a pair of scissors that snaps and the petals fall apart. Lights out. End show. It all takes place on a very small space - in the discussion the day before, Javier said he didn't have any requirements, any room would do, two square meters is enough. And he has to do it again, so no lasting damage is done, but the knife that hacks the apple in two is lying in front of him all the time, reminding us that in real death things could be worse.

Once more with feeling

Once more with feeling

Once more with feeling is about repetition and rehearsal. Noha Ramadan and Roderigo Zobarso challenge the audience's memory by going through their moves time and again, first one, then the other, then both together, and then the whole sequence again. Three or four times they wish us welcome and begin again. Sometimes we hear them on tape. All we see are the positions and the first moves: do it better, do it the same way, do it again. (Actually it reminds me of Dick Ross' brilliant advice on storytelling at the Teachers' Academy: "That was boring. Tell it again." And that is not meant as a negative comment.)

There is another thing they say three or four times, looking askance at the audience, that epitomizes the piece best: "Do you see that man over there? I think he's following us."

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