Lisbeth Gruwez: AH/HA (Dance Umbrella 2015)

Image Credit: Michel PetitImage Credit: Michel Petit

Thoughts on Lisbeth Gruwez’s AH/HA

This review is comprised of two voices, those of:
Antonio De le Fe
Gareth Chambers

It’s a cold chilly night/early morning, the streetlamps buzz with energy. The street is quiet but heavy with possibility, it could be anywhere between Glasgow and Krakow. It’s typically European.

A girl walks into the frame. She’s skinny, white and has an air of wholesomeness.
Her memories of the evening are fragmented and hazy, held together by made up fantasies.
Under the streetlamp her skin glows a pale straw yellow. She smiles to the evening and the heaviness of her limbs.
Only suddenly does she notice, it’s small at first.
She’s vibrating. Her bones pulse and her teeth chatter.
It’s stronger now.
So strong her skin, that yellowy flesh is now peeling off like that of wallpaper in a cheap hotel.
Bones are exposed to the light and the wind.
She’s undone.
The memories of the evening, the touches/looks of strangers have undone her very body.

This frame of bones, now begins to dance. It dances under the street lamps and down the road. All the way back to her flat above the green grocers.

The piece:

Did I like it? Was I annoyed by it?
Thoughts raced through my mind as I scanned the empty stage.
Let me think, let me weigh it up.
I turned to my friend Michael and after a glass of wine.
I came to a conclusion.
It was safe, and I felt cheated.
I saw the piece as in two parts.
One was an art form which excited me, a type of movement which refused the world of traditional dancing. The latter was the Pina Bausch of yesteryear.
The space was green, a green screen. That conjuring trick which makes a space transformative. It was up to us the viewer to make the scene of a pub, a dirty street and a sunrise. The street lamp which hovered above was a nice touch. It grounded the space and become a symbol for the action.
The repetition of the vibration I thought was extremely refreshing and held many meanings, communicated a series of stories. The act of sex, the mechanics of the body, the creaky bones of a performer, the uncanny puppets in the toyshop.
The energy was contagious and I felt my body yearning to join them, to vibrate with their energies. It was the type of synergy you catch when you are out with friends on a Saturday night. A buzzing.
However, it can be grotesque, the 3 am and the lights come on in the club ugly. The gurning faces of the other can undo you, you fall away from you sense of self. Only to come back stronger.
In what I call part two of the piece I felt like Lisbeth got scared, felt that her choreography was becoming too odd, too strange perhaps for the building or the festival? I also think that this half would have been more suited to a gallery space.

This insecurity I feel led to the old school Tanztheater actions which followed. The Café Muller shuffling, the repetitive acts of the absurd and the classical dance motifs.

It was such a shame in my view.
It got me to thinking how dancers/performers sometimes resort to what they know. What they learnt in the beginning of dance composition, the basic ways of creating and devising.
The outcome always comes off a bit self-indulgent and samey. Another moment which stuck out was the final last few seconds. Why was the pop song inserted in such a random way? Did this classic song which holds so many meanings save the day? Make us forgive the last 30 mins?

Walking home, I started thinking why this happens? Is it for the money? Anything odd in dance isn’t that valued and is perhaps seen as visual art. And is therefore not really ‘dancing’.
And now I’m thinking where are they? Where are the British Dance makers who refuse the old ways and are striving for something different.
A way of moving through space which isn’t 45 years old?
Answers on a postcard.

Gareth Chambers.

I don’t really know what to say. I feel a bit divided.

If I was asked to answer in two words I would know the words to use but not the order. I wouldn’t know if I should say “awkwardly incredible” or “incredibly awkward.”
This is the thing: I wasn’t very interested about Dance Umbrella’s programme this year. I haven’t given up dance and performance as an audience member but I have sort of given up a little bit in Dance Umbrella. In the past I’ve never loved the whole programme, obviously, but there were always things that I really wanted to see.
This year when I looked at the programme I was just a bit like… well… I don’t know, I guess disillusioned is the word. That’s my problem, I know. It is a bit of apathy from my side and in a way this came from assumptions I made about things.
However, I have come to see two works at Dance Umbrella this year. I first saw La Veronal at Sadler’s Wells and I was really sad afterwards. I didn’t know much about the piece or the company; I didn’t have expectations. I’m not going to expand too much on this but I just found the piece a kind of cheap blockbuster that creates a misrepresentation of great work but it is all fake. Literally at one point they had like a big dinner table, very much tanztheater, very much Castelucci, but when dancers went onto the table, the glass and crockery was all made of plastic. This may be a small detail but for me it says it all. After seeing La Veronal I wanted to say that I was angry but then I couldn’t be even bothered. I wanted to say that it’s sad that Dance Umbrella had to become this kind of festival in order to survive but I couldn’t find the energy. I also wanted to say thank you to all the people that keeps on trying to make things like Dance Umbrella happen but I also I wanted to ask them if they really still see the point. Apathy hit harder.

Anyway, I also had Tickets for Lisbeth Gruwez’s Ah/Ha at The Place but I had heard from a friend of mine that this piece was meant to be very good. It had been recommended to her by another dancer who saw it in Brussels. My attitude towards (at least) this piece changed from apathy to hope.

The problem is that this time I had expectations and I guess my expectations weren’t exactly fulfilled. At the same time I was feeling really grateful for the performance which was so generously offered by the performers. So I don’t really know what to say. I don’t really know what I think about Dance Umbrella any more; I don’t know what to think about the piece.
But here I am writing this. So, what did I think of the piece itself… in more than two words, that’s it.

They started bouncing. I wasn’t sure whether the sound was real. I thought that maybe it was being captured live from that weird VR-like looking lawn (maybe generated from some sort of movement detector under the dance floor or from microphones). I finally realised that it wasn’t that but they still were synchronizing with it.
After a while they started adding things, and they really pushed the scene. It changes a little but it quite doesn’t. I can see the hard work from the dancers from the way the whole thing develops. I don’t question their effort, I really found that the piece was moving towards the wonderful, towards the incredible, but not in an obvious way. It’s quite like something else was going to happen but quite doesn’t happen.

I felt awkward not knowing whether to laugh or to be horrified for what I was seeing.
But then, all of a sudden, I started to think that I was there, in my seat, feeling a bit removed from the whole situation and I became too much self-conscious about myself being removed and about this piece and about that particular way of making performances and of choreography. All of a sudden, I started thinking that it wasn’t me who’s feeling awkward but that it’s the piece what felt awkward. I mean awkward in an uncomfortable and non-desirable way. I don’t think this is because the piece was pushing any boundaries or being provocative in any way any more. It just didn’t seem I was able to do anything with the piece.

This very everyday and human action of laughing, that is never repeated the same way, had become an object of museum collecting. I imagined that they had probably filmed the action of laughing and recorded its sound, and then they had played with all the tools that any good sound and image editing set may have, playing to decompose the action ad nauseam.
It felt suddenly like a bit of unnecessary virtuosity asked from the performers. They managed to do it but, so what? Once that they had all of these elements, what did they do with them? I had been relating with what I saw in a very emotional way until that moment, but after a while I started thinking that all these elements were devoid of any emotion. I’m not judging whether the performers were feeling emotions whilst doing them or not. I cannot know that. But what I could see was that the actions were dissected, cut and removed from their original locus and placed in this foreign (also dissected somehow) green landscape. Out of place but with one dissected bit arranged after another dissected bit, in sequence. Portions of laugh transformed into dance steps. I think I started to feel a bit cold and I started to think how fragmented the whole thing was. I lost a notion of continuity as if my eye had earned the power of distinguishing the independent stills that together make the film to create the illusion movement in time.

Was the whole piece just an exercise on composition? When one laugh-step is placed after another creating laugh-sequences, then everything is about how these sequences construct scenes and scenes should be place one after the other for the right amount of time and in the right order. Thinking this way makes me feel as if we are in the 90’s and in any case as an exercise on composition I think that this piece failed.

I am quite happy that I went to see this piece after all, although I can’t stop thinking about all the people who had a great experience with it, because I can’t quite understand why so many people felt so positive about it. After the show I talked with someone who said, “Well you are from Europe and you have seen types of works that the UK hasn’t seen; I think the piece had something that for the UK really pushes the scene towards the right directions, challenging the audience enough but at the same time giving them enough anchors so they don’t feel lost.” Maybe he’s right. We can’t help but be biased; we’re all biased, aren’t we?

But I’m tired of continually hearing these myths about the audiences here and the audiences there. I don’t have the patience to believe it and I don’t believe it… I won’t believe it. A piece must surely be something else than what audiences here and audiences there make of it, mustn’t it?

Antonio de la Fe.

Lisbeth Gruwez: AH/HA


Choreography and Concept: Lisbeth Gruwez
Performers: Mercedes Dassy, Anne Charlotte Bisoux, Lisbeth Gruwez, Vicente Arlandis Recuerda,
Lucius Romeo Fromm
Sound Design: Maarten Van Cauwenberghe
Light Design: Harry Cole
Stylist Advisor: Catherine Van Bree
Artistic Advisor: Bart Meuleman
Light Assistant: Caroline Mathieu
Contributer production: Liesbeth Stas
Production: Voetvolk Vzw