Monday, 20 December 2010

'Libido,' Dance Works Rotterdam

Morelle looks like a red devil, while Camarda's pale, ravaged figure, 
with her prominent hip bone and knotted arms, 
recalls the mannerist paintings of El Greco.

Morelle is a picture of force without traction, a man spinning his wheels, 
his fresh battered and scorched by his experiences.

The two spent lovers/combatants roll off a blood-smeared mattress … 
or is it a sparring mat?
Performers: Vincent Morelle, Sylvia Camarda. 
Photos: Anna van Kooij

'How do we make contact?' is the question posed by 'Libido,' a 60 minute opus created in 2010 by David St. Pierre and Andre Gingras for Dance Works Rotterdam. For those unlucky enough not to make contact with the live show, Josanne Buiting's 2 minute teaser on Vimeo gives a taste of a chamber piece that somehow manages to be as full-blooded and opulent as a Puccini opera.

The setting of this psycho-drama is a grim space somewhere between a warehouse and a slaughterhouse, the protagonists nude dancers Vincent Morelle and Sylvia Camarda, both looking vulnerable in this unforgiving milieu. These two characters proceed to push frustratedly at the limits of sex without reaching even the frontiers of mutual understanding.

Looking as if his very flesh has been forged in blood and fire, Morelle gives an unrestrained and technically dumbfounding performance, at one point scrabbling manically on his back like a wounded insect. He creates the sense of a man who, for all his force and energy, is unable to connect, to grasp what is in front of him - fated not only to see it slip out of his hands, but from under his feet as he slithers and slides through his performance. Even the act of crouching on all fours on a trestle table is, for him, somehow precarious and full of potential pitfalls.

Harried by Morelle, Camarda yet carves out moments of stillness. In the video clip we see her sitting, pale and lovely, on the table, as serene as a young naked Buddha. Unlike Morelle, she never seems to lose her footing. Even when the two men spin her like a bar of soap, you feel as if their efforts to dislodge her poise are ultimately futile.

Yet there is an irony. For all their sense of mutual alienation, Morelle and Carmada are caught together in the same spreading bubble of oil, sweat and blood. Literally mirroring their contortions, the shimmering, liquid floors remind us of their common humanity. Similarly, references to various bodily orifices and excretions serve to suggest that the flesh itself can never be totally sealed off and enclosed, whatever the state of our hearts may be.

While the material itself may be troubling and problematic, 'Libido' is thoroughly exhilarating as a demonstration of the expressive powers of the performing nude. There is an almost iconic power in the moment when, bloodied knives in hand, Camarda straddles the fallen Morelle and allows her body to morph luxuriously through a series of preying-mantis poses. That she can play this scene masked is an act of bravura, an assertion that the unadorned flesh has come of age as a storyteller.

Dance Works Rotterdam are currently preparing 'Anatomica', an investigation of the body by Andre Gringas, for an April, 2011 premier. You can follow their progress on Twitter.

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