zaterdag 17 mei 2008

Extra Dry performed at Springdance 2008

Considering some aspects of the beginning of EG|PC's career as
an introduction to the performance of Extra Dry, danced by Ti Boomershine and Victor Callens at Springdance Festival 2008 - Friday April 18, Utrechtse School, Utrecht.

by fransien van der putt

This is an introduction to a work that premièred exactly 9 years ago. Extra Dry was first danced by Emio Greco and Andy Deneys in 1999, to be precise on the 31st of March, at the Kaaitheater in Brussels. A duet that, as the final part of the trilogy Fra cervello e movimento, had to round up the issues brought up by the two solos that had preceded it: Bianco and Rosso. In very different ways, these two solos shook the Dutch dance world, because of their severe approach and sheer beauty. 'Rather incomprehensible and more the work of a dancer than of a choreographer,' I remember a Dutch critic's remark after Egpc's first Springdance appearance, in 1998 with Rosso.

The solo's Bianco and Rosso were produced almost outside the Dutch dance world. It was at the Cosmic Theatre, a platform for theatre makers from the Dutch Antilles in Amsterdam, that Pieter C -PC- Scholten and Emio Greco met in 1995; that bianco was prepared over the course of a year and premièred in the spring of 1996. It was with the help of the Flemish producer and Klapstuk festival director Johan Reinierse, that Rosso came out in the fall of 1997 in Leuven, with Korzo as the co-producer.

After Rosso, to break open the solo work and prepare Extra Dry, Emio and Pieter started a research project and invited the Spanish dancer Bertha Bermudez, who had been working with the Frankfurter Ballet, to come and work with them. This resulted in a mesmerizing duet, first shown at the Cadance festival in 1998, entitled Double Point:2.

Since I don’t want to frame your expectations for tonight's show too directly, let me share with you some of my thoughts about these first productions. Although they were kept on the repertoire for many years, I’m not sure how many of you have seen them.

ɷ 1995, 1996

bianco was as white as it promised to be. Starting from an ironic treatment of the mythical proportions of birth, be it of a nation, a world, a dance, a human being or a thought to be put on paper, the solo continues to write in white, principles of movement, of its source and the embedding forces that ensure access as much as they throw the beginning out. Curiosity and its pitfalls, tradition and its defeats.

At a certain moment, halfway through the performance, after a rather dramatic scene, in which Greco almost looses his grip on things and actually lets go of his second skin like a snake in summer, he approaches the audience and asks politely not to look at him for a moment. He suggests we say hello to our neighbor, have a look at the flyer or just close our eyes for a while.

Now, for a dancer to speak at such a moment was rather special those days. To speak of who is watching whom - with what kind of intent, was undone in dance in Holland. The relation was set. The dancer was on show, the audience was there to enjoy and if in need could interpret, but in general interpretation wasn't much discussed. Dance was simply there and it celebrated its stage beyond words.

Dutch dance had been strongly embedded in a certain modernist tradition, where interpretation is regarded as a bourgeois claim to control meaning, and the rebellious quality in dance was directly found in its unspeakable nature and its resistance to interpretation.

So, for Emio Greco to address the issue of the unspeakable, by using the most direct form of speech, no statement, no grand gesture or provocation, but instead: an informal, gentle, almost shy request, changed those set relations. It meant that he was feeling us, that he changed because of our presence, especially because of our glances continuously cast at him.
As he had been struggling with his preoccupations, he now directed us to consider ours for a moment. Was I as shy as Emio in that moment? How did I overcome my mixed feelings? What did I think of my neighbor who shrunk in disgust because he was exposed?

The spell that had bound the spectator to the performance, caused by the exhausting movement sequences and the radical changes between scenes, was broken. One way or another, we all changed gear. Becoming aware of the different reactions in the audience, we might wonder what it means to be a spectator. And clearly our individual presence, by being exposed, was considered as constructive for the piece as Greco's endurance was. We were not directly made part of the performance, but our subjective sensibility was included, by the sheer fact that the performer claimed his.

Greco repeated his request several times. There was no reproach in his voice. What he was asking for was just a little void, a small lapse of attention or in football terms, “a Schwalbe”, a moment of not playing by the rules.

A beginning needs a blank, a moment of nothingness, however impossible this may be. In Dutch audio-speak we call this blank “een witje”, a little bit of white. It means that nothing is being recorded, nothing is on tape, yet. Now in musical scores the bars without playing are called 'rest'. I don't know whether in dance there is a specific term for this kind of rest, in between movements. However, a audience cannot really be stopped, whether you consider their practice a form of recording or a form of writing. The movements of the audience are continuous, their show goes on, no matter what you ask.

So, the invitation to turn away or to close our eyes was an invitation to perform and maybe to perform differently. To consider one's self and the others, to become aware and maybe to change perspective because of this. This could just as well be regarded as a definition of the Egpc’s approach to dance in those days. To perform and to create meant to re-consider dance, to become aware of self and others and to create a different perspective because of that.

By the time people got adjusted to the situation, I think it took about 5 minutes, Emio Greco had withdrawn into near darkness and a piece of heavy, heavenly violin music from Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

So, from looking at ourselves and Emio as new objects and considering our gaze so literally, the piece throws you into the most admirable voyeurism you could wish for in dance. Plunged into darkness, grabbed by a tiny little spotlight on his head, Greco treats his body as a precious stone, that shines through with every facet, while violins intensify the experience, and the beat of Vivaldi, slow and insisting, shows us the way. Now, as I pronounce these words here, this may sound ironic, but I assure you the scene is not. It convinces. :)

More important: as much as the Vivaldi-sequence is a restoration of or re-investment in the spell that binds the audience through fascination, the fact that it was introduced by a request not to look, or to look at one’s self or to meditate on whatever comes to mind or body, changed that spell completely. A real intimacy was produced, not only for those members of the audience that felt a great relief, being set free by regaining the dark as the show went on.


The logic of contrast and reversal of perspective is used a lot by Egpc in their work. The body of the dancer is actually the body of the audience, there's no fundamental difference between the two. And the aspects of dance tradition and contemporary culture they consider or criticize, are fully embraced in the practice of performance. As for instance the beginning of the more recent production Hell, the playback-scene, shows.

The joy of impersonating a star singer or a cult song it treated in a earnest way. The social activity is not mocked as such. But the fun game is corrupted by certain details, elements that fit but at the same time undermine the simple joy. The scene becomes a kind of station drama, with the lyrics of each song opening up to interpretations of and comments on contemporary life and dance. Even more so, as an introduction to the piece, it simply points out how dominant entertainment has become in our life. One might consider that Hell.

Let me give you another example from bianco of how Pieter Scholten and Emio Greco embrace the things they hate and reverse the roles at play. As bianco continues after what I described as the Vivaldi scene, more questioning of dance principles in relation to tradition are displayed, although never in a obvious way. Towards the end, Greco indulges in the most frantic movement sequence you can imagine: a lyrical robot gone wild on the beats of a dot matrix printer (those machines that would shake your desk while doing their job, printing). A big bang from the light cuts from unbearable brightness to complete darkness in a millisecond.

As an after-effect, the last intense moments of the show glow on as images before your eyes. These reminiscences, these imprints are produced by your brain being slow at adapting to the new situation (what is called persistence of vision). This effect then mingles with real appearances in the dark: numbers showing up on the floor, fluorescent points of reference, 1, 2, 3 till 7, each referring to the scene that took place in that space, but also referring to the 7 principles of a pamphlet that Greco and Scholten had published in the dance magazine Notes. Meanwhile, regaining his breath, Greco starts to sing from the dark, very softly and rather quick:
“Ne me quitte pas, Il faut oublier
Tout peut s'oublier, Qui s'enfuit déjà,
Oublier le temps, Des malentendus, Et le temps perdu,
A savoir comment, Oublier ces heures, Qui tuaient parfois,
A coups de pourquoi, Le coeur du bonheur, Ne me quitte pas, Ne me quitte pas, Ne me quitte pas, Ne me quitte pas."

This ne me quitte pas, you have to forget, all can be forgotten, what is slipping away already, to forget time, the misunderstandings, time lost, to know how, to forget the hours, that sometimes kill, asking again and again, the heart of happiness, don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me corresponds with the last of the 7 statements in the pamphlet, of course. It says: "il faut que je vous dise que je vous abandonne et que je vous laisse ma statue", I need to tell you that I am leaving (abandoning) you and will leave you with my statue.

Now, for a performer to persist so intensely in a certain physical quality, for Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten to invest all their gut in a one hour solo, and then to state that it is for nothing that one is performing, - the hopelessly insisting printer sound, the show being just an after-effect, the stupid numbers that stay and the chosen pathos of the singing in the dark, all testify to this - I must conclude that this finale not only advocates the merits of interpretation, but also welcomes the misunderstandings.

Emio and Pieter not only rebel against the modern Dutch tradition and its disregard for meaning in dance, claiming it is purely physical, or formal, or in one way or another beyond words. They also distance themselves from the romantic view of dance as being ephemeral, non-physical, immaterial, that which escapes us all and only resides with the stars. They put our sentiments, our awareness, our perception, our experience, our interpretation so much at the center of their work, as a clear substance to work with, residing in the body of the audience and the performer alike, that one can no longer hold the romantic or formal view of the unspeakable.


In an interview in 2004, Greco expressed his ideas about the body as a source in relation to choreography. I paraphrase: “The body is a rich source, it can do more than dance, it is eclectic and in constant mutation, choreography is almost an old [outdated] word, that doesn't apply anymore, it tends to be artificial, an exterior world in which the body acts as in a construction, this explains sometimes for the friction between choreography and reality, choreography being so often the abstract or analytical result of what is on the choreographer’s mind. It doesn’t speak enough to the body, as a source needed to articulate the construction.” And he ends: ”I think choreography is still worthwhile as long as it is defined by other ingredients than those normally thought of as dance and composition.” (Anja Krans, Vertraagd effect, Amsterdam, 2005)

So it came from both sides, this assumption that what Emio and Pieter did, wasn't really choreography. The critic that qualified Greco's work as being more of a dancer's than of a choreographer's capacity, I would answer: graciously so.
Because this is exactly one of Egpc's contributions to the field of dance in Holland: that the formal, neutral, available, disciplined and able modern body actually gets a face, shows his gut and most important, sets an agenda, from the body, extending, in an almost natural way, step by step.

I think it is vital to the field of choreography that people openly and thoroughly question the basics of their trade. It actually surprises me how much dance as an art in Holland has developed as a fetish for the right body, the right frame, the right composition, the right concept, as if there is a general order to all of these things, that is exclusive instead of inclusive.

On the other hand, Emio Greco has stated in more than one interview that he needs Pieter Scholten to organize the work with him, not only to enable an inside-outside dialogue, a shared reflection that considers more than one perspective, but also because, from his experience, he felt that the movement never stopped, for him there was no ending, no beginning.

This shows a fundamental tension in the work. Composition is not there to tame the body whether it is the audience's or the performer's, to pacify its many directions and contents, in order to accommodate a visual or an ideologically justified overall. Composition is meant to enable the body experiences to come to the surface, to let them speak against.

Why this might have become such an urgent matter?
There are many reasons, and there isn’t time here to really reflect on this. One thing of course is the western tradition regarding the body as secondary to the mind, or to the soul. Another is, and I am now quoting Brian Massumi, being quoted at this afternoons symposium Questions of Meaning and Movement, the underestimation of movement as a fundamental quality in reflection and discourse.

Massumi: "The point of explanatory departure is a pinpointing, a zero-point of stasis. When positioning of any kind comes a determining first, movement comes a problematic second. After all is signified and sited, there is the nagging problem of how to add movement back into the picture." (Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, 2002)

Now this is a good way to now look at Rosso.

ɷ 1997, 1998

The approach of Fra cervello e movimento-Rosso, the second solo, is radically different from that of bianco. I guess, and I am only guessing, that after working on bianco for over two years, Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten had enough of framing themselves with statements and principles, concepts and points of departure that actually had to be met. Although in the performance of bianco their critical approach to dance culture is only implied, the working process in those first two years must have been exhausting, laying the ground for their personal method and approach on all kinds of levels.

So white paper was replaced by red velvet, and the open beginning, the blank, the attempts at analysis, the maybes, the look at it this way or maybe that, was followed by a full body. Although the colour red refers to all kind of symbolics, in Rosso it refers mainly to what lies under my white skin, substances covered in blood. Flesh, bones, ligaments and a nervous system holding together a few vital organs. When that body starts to move, it inhales oxygen, it uses energy, it starts steaming. And this produces a different state of the mind.

The structure of Rosso has a physical logic. It isn’t based on questions about the dance world and the purpose of dance as an art. Instead it starts from an intense physicality that structures awareness and allows for certain perceptions that do not always speak to the mind. In white everything stands out. In red, everything vanishes, melts together. Especially with red stage lights in a red box, it is actually hard to perceive anything, the brain has a problem, just as it has with quick changes from light to dark.

The opening scene of Rosso seems to pick up from the moment halfway bianco, which I described earlier as the Vivaldi-scene: where Greco holds his body as a precious stone. At the beginning of Rosso, again there is a tiny little spotlight, and Emio is holding his body, but the precious of bianco has been reconfigured. The body has members but they stick out from unfamiliar places, it has a face, but it doesn't look so human. Of course everybody realized this must be Emio in some kind of Indian snake dance act. But through the duration of the scene and its physical build-up, we actually become familiar with another kind of body than the one we know. Our body could have evolved differently – although I always thought we stem from fish, not birds ...

So, by radically flipping over homo erectus, man, l'homme, l'état, the state, that which is standing, Greco and Scholten begin Rosso with questioning the statue of human beings, this image we have in our mind of what it means to be human, the only erect animal on the planet, having developed his brain as no other animal has, and accordingly attributing to these qualities certain values and positionings, or hierarchies. So, not to replace this human statue with some kind of fantasy, but to reconsider the powers, the different forces driving us on a basic level. In a scene just after the beginning they are staged in a little pantomime. Fear, anger, curiosity, desire, envy, joy and sadness show up as competing forces within the body, even conspiring against it.

With Rosso, the body had to re-conquer the stage, become its own frame, its own context, it own ideology. No pure physicality, not pure dance. But also not pure projection, reference, discourse and food for interpretation. Again there is a rebellious quality in the work. With the emphasis on drives and the issues of power that are entailed (being driven or driving), this body cannot stop moving, whether dance allows for it or not, whether it looks good on stage or not. This being that can't get enough, that always wants to do more or go on, that is challenged by every step, that wants to climb the highest mountain and go over the top, something every athlete, every cyclist, every kind of physical fanatic knows about, that body is at stake.

To rephrase Massumi: to distract movement from the pinpointing and the mapping of the images we have on our mind and in our culture, that determine the position of the body, create hierarchies that govern it, frame it with purpose outside itself. Instead Rosso takes an odd beginning to distract the primary movements from those expectations. Movements neither autonomous nor a-historical, but detached from the images. Bound and anchored in the interplay of resonances between and within the body of the dancer and the audience. Movements that make the image of the body relative and place the individual histories of the dancer and the audience alike in a physical perspective. To assume the possibility of an inherent truth, even if only momentarily, in the movement of a body when it is confronted with or receptive to the bodies around it.

The search for this truth is a quest, with moments of rest and quiet and moments of intense struggle for meaning, and with a good deal of humor, of making fun of yourself and your quest.

So, after Rosso comes Extra Dry.

ɷ 1998

One last remark about the break away from solo-work. It concerns duets, doubling and dancing in somebody else work.

After Rosso, Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten invited the dancer Bertha Bermudez, who had been working with Forsythe's Frankfurter Ballet, to join them in a research on how to break open the solo-work. This resulted in Double Point:2, the first in a long series of research projects, all called double point:something.

So Bertha was the first, before Andy Deneys in Extra Dry, to enter this delicate space, this dialogue between Pieter and Emio. Until now I haven't mentioned the hyper-personal approach that defines Egpc's dance work. The way Emio Greco takes on the responsibility of being an author and a performer results in a ultra specific treatment of his own experience, that translates through the exchange with Pieter Scholten and is extended in a body of work, pieces, an oeuvre, method, approach, perspective. You can enter a work process, but to enter the specific definitions which Emio and Pieter were developing is something else. Who says that Bertha, or anyone else, would come up with the same kind of specificities through her body, through her mind?

Now of course one could make the principles less specific and let someone have her own way with things, and develop in a different direction, as an alternative to those principles. Scholten and Greco chose not to do so. They actually engaged in a project where the deep and private notion of Emio's approach to movement in life and theater is taken as key-material, as the source-code.

Double Point:2 is a doubling, a synchronizing exercise, different from the more common use of this impressive device in the staging of bodies in movement, like soldiers marching in a parade, horses and elephants in a circus or classical dancers in the corps de ballet. The kind of movement that is doubled in Double Point:2 has nothing to do with the clearly defined shapes of parading.

Physical challenge is one of the most important aspects in Egpc's approach. With it comes extreme effort, deep concentration, but also hesitation, questioning and rephrasing, processes that allow for the crossing of physical and mental borders. The work produces these processes in the body as it is achieving form or letting go of it. The performances are full of in between moments that articulate stages of a process, the breaking up of a general line of movement into fractions by analyzing it, preparing it, finding out different qualities, shades, tone, timbre.

Breath and breathing, as a kind of inner music of the body, play a significant role in this approach. During training the dancer is confronted with the specificity of his or her private body through intense and lengthy breathing exercises. Exhaustion and deep body awareness bring personal histories, psychological complexities, social frameworks, cultural-political reflexes and so on, to the surface.
On stage the loss of breath and regaining is never concealed. Often dancers have to invest that much effort in the work that they loose control over the way they look. Their body appearance is the result of the work they do, not the other way around. Faces show the intensity of the effort, the complexity of the task or the bluntness of a body being taken over by movement. Between dancers the sharing of breath, the rhythm this creates, the music that derives from different breathing paths is as manifest as, and often precedes, the shape of the movement.

Moving at the limit of the achievable, the dancers loose control over the image of the movement and find themselves in a state that not only transcends the social body, but also, in a way, the private. They cannot hide in decorative variations or dramatic gestures. Their posture is a result and not a point of departure. Dancers are forced to concentrate on how the movement comes into being and on what differs each time it is done. Going through something over and over again, insisting on a specific quality, is not meant to display technical or analytical insight (although without it, this work couldn’t be done of course). It is meant to create a potential in the body, a heightened awareness, a trained sensitivity to convey elementary questions. This results in a trance-like quality that, paradoxically, can only be generated by a consciously acting dancer and a highly lucid articulation of the body.

The minuscule detailing of the body that is foregrounded in this manner, arises from the individual interpretation of the dancer. What communicates most of all is not the effort it requires or the great control, but the specific route the dancer chooses. It is this physical detailing that impresses the audience and provokes physical awareness and body memory, opening in the body of the spectator a similar repository of personal histories, psychological complexities, social frameworks, cultural-political reflexes as is used as a source by the dancers.

As in every new performance the dancers go on to explore the relationship between their body and the intended form (a broken up general line of choreography) in accordance with their individual commitment and the possible meaning that flows from this exchange, so the spectators continuously reconsider the spectacle as the detailed paths taken by the dancers resonate in their body.

The doubling exercise, the synchronizing that is so characteristic of the first duets Double Point:2 and Extra Dry and continues to play an important role in the group pieces of Egpc, is often taken as a cloning device, comparable to the parading practices I described earlier as a feature of entertainment of all sorts, more or less military, celebrating the pacifying effect of order and the power of its master, leaving Emio Greco in the position of a chief whip or a circus director.
For me it has exactly the opposite effect. It is in the doubling, and in the doubling of Emio Greco, that the individual approach and the ambiguity of the coming together can be expressed. Not as a antagonistic quality resulting from different roles to be played, but as a subtle friction between minds and bodies that remain fundamentally different, no matter how much alike their proceedings are.

Double point:2 and Extra Dry have become repertoire. Unlike nine years ago, Pieter and Emio work with a bigger group of dancers now. Over the years it has been a great pleasure to see the work evolve through time as it was performed by subsequent casts. Extra Dry for instance I witnessed being danced by Emio Greco and Andy Deneys, Emio Greco and Barbara Meneses Gutiérrez, Nicola Monaco and Vincent Colomes and today we will see Ti Boomershine and Victor Callens dance it.

I had two DVDs of Extra Dry lying on my desk all week. I decided not to watch them. The only way to see Egpc's work, at least for me, is through the dancer’s perspective. The frame or the grit or the skeleton of the performance stays similar if not exactly the same, but you need the flesh, its specific quality, its history, its preferences, its personal struggle, its individual triumph, the interpretation of the dancer, to really see the piece again.

In the old sense, as Sawami Fukuoka declared provokingly at the beginning of Rimasto Orphano, Emio Greco is dead. Greco and Scholten don’t construct for the body as if all bodies are alike, all like Emio Greco's. They are not like the architect who thinks in terms of steel and concrete constructions and beautiful, efficient form, who conceives of the people using the buildings as model citizens. Contemporary architecture is not only concerned with the function of a building and its purposes, it also thinks of strategies for developing and accommodating all kinds of behaviour, in work and other life processes, passing through the construction and making it work.

Thank you very much for your attention.