Blog #3 by Platform dramaturg-in-residence Jenn Joy
October 13, 2010
10.8.2010. Blog 3
Cecilia Bengolea & François Chaignaud, Sylphides (2009) and Pâquerette (2006, revised 2007, 2008)
“The sublime is a feeling, and yet, more than a feeling in the banal sense, it is the emotion of the subject at the limit. The subject of the sublime, if there is one, is a subject who is moved. […] the sublime offering is the act of freedom in the double sense that freedom is both what offers and what is offered”
–Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Sublime Offering”
We wait outside until the exact moment and are then hurried into the darkened space. St. Mark’s Church has transformed into a kind of black box theater—chairs placed in rows on one side of the sanctuary on the risers, a black covering on the floor, curtains hung between the columns. In silence spotlights reveal three large balloon-like bags. It is as if Warhol’s Silver Clouds (1966) have grown in dimension and weight and lie tethered to the floor. Shaped like the large mylar balloons, these inflated black latex bags are heavier and detailed with silver rings and zippers. The bags sway less perceptibly, casting a more anxious image filled with air and flesh rather than helium.
In these opening moments, the sensory deprivation bags appear almost metallic against the lights as the dancers inside shift and the latex crinkles. How does the aleatory promiscuity of Warhol’s silver inflatables levitating and falling within the white gallery space, translate to these dark potentially suffocating enclosures positioned on the floor of St. Mark’s Church? Maybe it does not.
A vacuum interrupts the silence. The attendant, Chiara Gallerani, dressed in tightly corseted blue jacket over black suit pants kneels next to the first bag and removes all the air. The bodies of the dancers now appear suctioned within the latex surfaces. She moves to the second and to the third. She exits.
Silence and stillness. The three taut bags become skins, metallic sarcophagi rendering a statuesque immobility. I want to see their breath, I want to see the stomach shift or the ribs expand underneath the surface. The textures of their clothes create strange and intricate patterns that attempt to confuse or shroud figure and expression. It is skin seen as drapery, anatomy witnessed through a thick suctioning curtain. It is body rendered as sculpture, trapped within the plaster and wax of Medardo Rosso or gouged or branded by Rodin.
And yet even more powerfully than these romantic predecessors, Bengolea and Chaignaud somehow eviscerate the boundary between internal and external body. These entrapped bodies are so very present and so very inaccessible. Breathing through the hoses in the bags, one sighs and another responds; one shifts her/his weight. Their breath is antiphonal, a call and response of micro-movements, as her stomach distends and spine arches and his legs stretch against the latex contour. Perhaps this is what the choreographers suggest when they describe the creatures as “immaterial”; rendering the contingent spaces between life and death through breath that rupture any easy representational associations through intensely visceral separation.
And then they move, abruptly. One inhales and gasps repeatedly, using breath to create more space within the folds and pockets of latex. Her latex skin sags and the tube seems to slip. It is a becoming baroque that Gilles Deleuze would have found fascinating. What does this subjection produce—what bodies, what creatures, what gestures, what possibilities, what limits?
The dancers emerge slowly from their cocoons, testing the quality of air and space that now surrounds them. Dressed in a pink lace unitard, François Chaignaud runs en pointe (without shoes), Cecilia Bengolea torques and spins, Lenio Kaklea runs to land in the splits. Their movements seem to parody balletic flight, and yet they are quite serious. Sylphides performs virtuosity in its damaging and disfiguring force, exposing the complicity of virtuosity, violence, and desire.
Both Sylphides and Pâquerette imagine a sublime moment of contact, an intensity of touch, an intimate act of penetration that will not rest easily within the confines of aesthetics or representation or concept conceit. When asked in the post-discussion talk about the history of presenting the duet Pâquerette, Chaignaud and Bengolea speak about the piece in terms of labor—of dance, of sex work, of cabaret, of strip tease—as multiple forms and codes that equally inform the choreography. Theirs is an exquisitely political, sensational, and queer virtuosity.
The duet has already begun when you arrive in the now sunlit space of the sanctuary on Saturday afternoon. Chaignaud and Bengolea sit on the floor draped in flowing robes cut open in the back, blue and gold (Bengolea) and white with gold detailing (Chaignaud), that affect a regal or ritual presence. Looking intensely at the audience, Chaignaud catches my eyes and holds me in his gaze. Bengolea as well, yet she releases me more easily, occasionally laughing and throwing her head back. They lean into and away from each other, always closely focusing on the audience, sighing and moaning.
A different choreography of breath, one sensitive not only to the lungs but also to use of breath as an opening to what we cannot see hidden under the pools of fabric. And here is it the face that communicates their secret intensities as if taking on Giorgio Agamben’s provocation.
“Be only your face. Go to the threshold. Do not remain the subjects of your properties or faculties, do not stay beneath them: rather, go with them, in them, beyond them.”
–Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Politics
For Agamben the face is the site of communicability, the place where politics must be exposed. In the face, we witness an opening to what has been repressed and hidden in dance and in life—pleasure, pain, invitation, excitation, ecstasy, longing, grace, uncertainty, difficulty, joy. Does it turn you on? Would you dare admit it? Pâquerette asks that we not only think about desire and its aesthetic dimensions, but that we are moved by its force, that we sit inside a difficult and beautiful encounter with the dancers and with the audience.
When they rise the gilded draperies fall to the floor and the choreography continues as a constant play with the limits imposed internally by the now visible lucite dildos. Bengolea balances on one leg using the heel of her other foot to hold the dildo in place. They pirouette and jump or almost. There is a slight hesitation or consciousness of sensation in the movements that determines the form. That is, until the devices drop to the floor and then like their emergence from the bags in Sylphides a different sense of freedom opens up. A sublime meditation on our more obscure practices of desire.