Six hours on the Autobahn and straight into the theatre to find Gala and Michael hard at it. I reckon they must be near the end, arriving so late as I did, but they keep going, like they were waiting as long as possible for me to get there before they started. In the end I missed maybe 20 minutes of their pre-general on Thursday evening and had the delight of their sweaty hot bodies jumping on me the instant they realised who the tardy arrival was.
Turns out missing the beginning is crucial to understanding what’s going on. Without Gala’s first monologue the piece only has the meaning I put on it; it’s a strong argument for context and against interpretation. So I’ll start with interpretation. A woman in a long, pale-lemon dress, cut just below the half-way line of her calves. Sleeveless, but over a dirty white short-sleeved shirt. A man in Oxford Blue corduroy trousers and a blue-grey unbuttoned shirt over a dirty white singlet. Both bare foot. A stage coated with ash, four wooden chairs, and downstage where the stage manager’s box would be if it were on-stage instead of off, a table, chair, computer, sound and light desks, spaghetti-ing cables onto the floor into a red effects box, and a single microphone on a long cable.
It’s one of the enduring clichés of dance theatre, ballet, contemporary dance and all, the single man and woman on stage, dressed so, performing the clichés of heteronormativity. It would be a comedy, except it’s not. It’s a cliché also of gay male choreographers making such work, almost a compulsion, like having to ‘reinterpret’ Giselle or Swan Lake. I’m watching these two dancers, tall, lithe, strong, who I’ve known for well over a decade in various cities and countries, who have danced together for thirteen years now, who I adore— so let’s not pretend I have any interest in lip service to ‘objectivity’ here — who I love watching dance, especially when it’s their own dancing, especially together. I’m watching them, and without the benefit of that first monologue, wonder how awkward it’s going to be if they fall over into that cliché. And giving them credit here, I know them for mercilessly mocking all the tropes and stereotypes of dance, both with their words and with their bodies. Yet sometimes the piece makes itself, and sometimes even the most caustic find themselves wanting to say something on those roles and identities and selfhood which are real and lived, which we have to negotiate even if we ourselves are not fully part of, even while they are so often used to fill the void of ideas.
The next day I see the whole work. I pay attention. I listen to Gala say, “Have you said any words of love today? There are no words of love today.” Say, whisper, bellow. Her voice is a typhoon blasting the stage, pushing the air before it. Rage, hate, anguish. This is the story ofMedea, who kills her children after her husband’s betrayal. This is the story of Gala. InGenesis, Michel Serres says,
The more I think, the less I am me. If I think something, I am that something. If I simply think, I am no longer anyone. In any case, me thinking am nothing.
[…] Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is the subject known as I. The moreI dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something, or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.
When Gala and Michael reference the story of Medea and Jason, the Gods take an interest.Not to say it’s an invocation, but rather to recite the lines from Euripides’ Medea, and to find or thread together multiple variations, be it Euripides, Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, or their own private lives deferred through these variations is enough to reverse the relationship. It isMedea who dances her life through Gala as much as it is Gala who draws on Medea to tell her own. It is a repetition across time, through each work referencing a predecessor, tracing branchings and bifurcations back to Medea. It is a repetition also in their bodies, dancing themselves, dancing each other.
I want to diverge from philosophy here and write of the awe I feel seeing these two together.Because this is becoming something of a review and not just photography and a travel document, Gala and Michael first danced together in Leigh Warren & Dancers, coming from Oz Ballet; Gala from WAAPA (by way of me and a couple of pieces back when I actually made dance). Michael went on to Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid, whileGala went to Charleroi Danses then Ultima Vez in Brussels. As for why I was seeing them in Wuppertal, Michael joined Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch a while ago. So we’re talking about two highly capable dancer-performers, who have worked across dance, theatre, opera in Europe and Australia while making their own work together for much of that time, and ‘officially’ since 2012 under the name Cie.OFEN. They move, alone and together, with brutal clarity. This isn’t the kind of work you can make in six weeks by throwing together some steps and ideas; it’s a knowing of self and each other down to their bones, worked into their bones. Even if they had gone fully into the cliché, I’d be destroyed by the beauty of them together.
The inevitability in their dancing. They compound that with dialogue, or with just the mundane acts of technical concerns, changing the lights, sound. There’s a moment whereGala is on all fours, around the centre of the work, the light and the energy has gone into a dark place, like blood is going to be spilt — or already has and you don’t even feel it yet —and Michael, barely above a whisper, spits, “Get. Up.” Savage. A slap to the face. Hatred where there was supposed to be love; betrayal and resentment and spite. You want to see work like this. You want the shit mediocrity of the cliché exposed for what it is: violence and abuse. Those saccharine dramatic conceits of the love story rest on the unmentionable bodies of murdered women, and while Medea might have murdered her children, this is projection: it is not women who are the murderers, not terrorists who women must fear, but the men in our midst, the men closest.
It’s a fucking hard, brave work.
It’s a beautiful work. I’ve said that already. Here is the violence of abuse, and here also is something to aspire to, here is a way out. Michael and Gala, Gala and Michael. Maybe a decade and some years is what’s needed for such a work. The care they take with each other, the familiarity, even or especially when they get rough, when it needs to be endured.The matter of fact getting on with it, like digging in the garden, there’s a complete absence of pretence that also doesn’t try and be some shite authenticity, like here’s the genuine, essential, real Gala and Michael for your entertainment. I want to say more, but then it becomes personal, and the point of a performance is to defer biography. So I will end with the end. Michael is back at the table. He and Gala have danced together, separate but together, increasingly apart, the light has increased for this last somewhat third or act, he sits and watches her as she comes from upstage in front of the chairs, dancing, dancing, and fades the lights, she’s smiling. Alone, survived, no longer Medea, Gala dancing, smiling.
CIE. OFEN MIT THE VASE“ IN DER WUPPERTALER „BÖRSE“ –
a critic by Klaus Dilger/Tanzweb Wuppertal (translated into English)
Ariel Dorfman’s “Purgatorio” by the “Compagnie OFEN” by the Pina Bausch dancer Michael Carter and the former Michelle Anne de Mey and Wim Vandekeybus / Ultima Vez dancer Gala Moody in the dance work “The Vase” in Wuppertal at die börse.
Four chairs, a table and the floor, covered with a thin layer of ash, before which a table, packed with a laptop, light control, microphone and sound system, along with a sampler pedal playing sound loops.
The barren experimental landscape signals something processual, long-lasting, and yet incomplete, which has already been deprived of every sustaining and life-giving thing these people must have lost, presented in a space whose inhospitableness has little hope for “the woman” and “the man” as Dorfman calls his” Purgatorio “protagonists.
The Chilean author, who received worldwide attention mainly through his drama “Death and the Maiden”, which Polanski filmed with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley in 1994, reaches back to Euripides’ myth “Medea” in his play “Purgatorio” Had killed their two sons after Jason had left them. She replied with this deed to the worst that could be done to her by the mistress with the worst of what she could do to him.
Dorfman asks, with reference to Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”, as well as Carter and Moody in “The Vase”, whether and how there can ever be a salvation through forgiveness.
Dorfman is a master of dialogue, observation, surprising twists and tensions, the smallest details, and the sensualities that are their own. His language, even in the most shocking and terrifying moments, and its content, must still be regarded as miraculous.
This also applies to Gala Moody and Michael Carter in their dance, especially at times in the work where they rely solely on the language of the body and the dance. With the finest nuances, they succeed again and again in letting hope grow, that the familiar and trusting gestures, movements, touches lend to the memory of life again. But this hope proves to be a renewed, desired tormenting of the other. It is an endless seemingly infernal game of longing and love, guilt, and denied forgiveness, which Moody still mastered a little more masterly than Carter. After an hour or so, this hell slowly escapes from the spectators’ eyes and lets them disappear in the dark. We can finally guess the woman’s enigmatic smile ….
A lot of applause for the grandiose performance of two wonderful dancers, the proportion of Sasha Budimski’s composition, which gets under the skin.
Gala has commenced an exciting collaboration with Notch Company at Charleroi Danses; working on a new dance-theatre solo directed by Oriane Varak and with musician Guillaume Le Boisselier. Titled Arcane Majeur – How to make Decisions, it is based on avante-garde film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s lifelong study of the Tarot de Marsailles.
ARCANE MAJEUR – How to Make Decisions
Procédé Un tirage à 5 cartes, dit « Tarot de la libération » (cf Jodorowsky). La scène est divisée en 5 espaces, soit un par carte. Chaque soir avant le spectacle, 5 spectateurs volontaires sont invités à poser une question et tirent chacun une carte. Les 5 cartes choisies formeront la nouvelle continuité du spectacle. Le spectacle est remis en jeu chaque soir par le tirage de 5 spectateurs. La probabilité de voir 2 fois le même spectacle est presque nulle.
Forme Nous attribuons à chaque carte un état d’esprit ou état de corps qui est une contrainte formelle qui influencera la danse, la musique et les lumières au plateau. Le corps et l’espace seront habillés des lumières et des couleurs du Tarot. Baroques. Dans le processus de travail, nous chercherons au plateau un point de tension entre danse, musique et lumières jusqu’à ce que les forces s’équilibrent.
Cie.OFEN performed their first work One Final Evolutionary Note in Amsterdam at Festival Why Not in the biginning of August. Performing on an outdoor stage amongst the trees was a perfect location for its Darwinian themes of evolution and natural selection.