“Where civilization entailed the corruption of barbarian virtues and the creation of dependent people, I decided, I was opposed to civilization.”
― J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
The debate around the degree of compromise performative arts should have with the development of society is one of the most interesting we have left. Even though this debate is as old as Plato’s itching around theatre’s function in his ideal city. For instance, in an attempt to “save” theatre turning it into a place that would be useful to society – contradicting, thus, the Platonic idea claiming theatre to be a fabric of passive spectators, enchanted shadow-watchers in the cavern – Brecht and Artaud proposed two different ways to redefine it during the early years of the XXth century. Nonetheless, according to The Emancipated Spectator by French philosopher Jaques Rancière, none of them broke the model of subjugation of the spectator in theatre, but just reorganized its pieces instead. Emancipation, and I quote, would only happen “when we realize that looking also is an action which confirms or modifies the distribution of the visible, and that ‘interpreting the world’ is already a means of transforming it, of reconfiguring it”. Rancière thus places the theatrical experience at the same level as an afternoon in the market, where individuals sharing one given space go on weaving their own poem with the poems presented to them at all times by others: The visual – spectacular – exchange happening between what one does and what the other one sees not understood, thus, as an event of cause/effect but rather as a shared space of ignorance where the mediation of the act of looking obeys rules of its own. Rules that do not refer to the transmission of a closed, predetermined message at all: “The student learns something as an effect of his master’s mastery. But he does not learn his master’s knowledge”.
It needs to be said, Marina Mascarell is not the most emblematic choreographer if it comes to engage with the postulates of Rancière regarding the role of the spectator. There are artists that have turned this into their poetic agenda, like the Catalan Roger Bernat with “Pending vote” or “Numax-Fagor-Plus”. But Mascarell does make part of a growing group of makers in dance that have lost fear of specific political content; who even make use of words without complexes because they literally want to talk about something. These are also paths long labored by others: Lloyd Nelson and DV8 – “Can we talk about this?”; “John” – Bill T. Jones – “Fondly do we hope… fervently do we pray” – or Mascarells generation peer Crystal Pyte – “The You Show” or “The Statement”. Firstly, the construction of a dramaturgy beyond strictly choreographic resources; and secondly, the use of text as a travel partner have for them all the potential of making a visual arrangement on specific, politically loaded questions without giving up on their expansion by means of dance.
In Mongrel – literally dog without race – Mascarell approaches the notion of the newcomer. The newcomer as a breather of fresh air we too often refuse to inhale because we are too worried blowing it away as a menace to what we think we already know. Philippe Claudel’s allegory “Le Rapport de Brodeck” comes to mind: a strange stranger arrives at a small community in strange times and it seems logical, inevitable, that he should die. The scapegoat, the false promise of salvation for the community mediated by the blood of the last in line.
With text or without it, it is not a theme to be addressed lightly, but it claims to be addressed over and over again: not out of opportunism, out of urgency. Having surpassed the conceptual meta-dansistic questions of postmodernism; bored of the comfort it poses, today, to watch dancers moving a lot but hardly shaking anything else other than their bodies; the committed exercises of scenic and choreographic dramaturgy that actually show things as they are – COMPLICATED – become the fresh air Mascarell wants to put into value. As Professor Roberto Fratini wrote about “Can we talk about this” by DV8 – “It was electrifying to see how the frontal attack to the secretly innocuous moral of the politically correct multiculturalism became implicitly a frontal attack towards all dance that did not dare to speak up out of fear. Fear of losing the requisites of formal cleverness, conceptual finesse and good conscience that make her, at the same time, so politically correct and, as much as it likes to cultivate the myth of its own dissidence, so politically innocuous.”
The career of Marina Mascarell has developed, mainly, in this place of walkthrough called The Netherlands, and she has been connected quite a lot to the Nederlands Dance Theatre (NDT). She thus has shared – willingly or not – in a very Dutch way of doing things in dance that was actually first put into practice by NDT when it came to be in the early sixties: the displacement of the limits of expectation – using all resources at hand the time had to offer – in order to develop very personal languages. Without setting fire to oneself, and trying to entertain at the same time. In a country without tradition, the field of dance mid-XXth century was filled with possibility. Generation after generation – from van Manen to Marco Goecke – choreographers that have come out of this tradition have made use of form without complexes. Each one with their own images and vocations. Perhaps without asking themselves the political dimension of the body they presented as such, but often using it politically as a representational fiction presented through its movement.
In the case of Marina Mascarell, this means escaping the excessive conceptualization through text, and always counting on the potential dance has to thicken every idea. Just like that, ‘dancing a spade a spade’ and intending to hurt: “Mongrel? Mongrel yourself”.
Jordi Ribot Thunnissen
MONGREL was performed at El Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona between 6 and 8 may 2016.
This article was originally published in Catalan in the Blog of El Mercat de les Flors
Web of the company:
www.marinamascarell.com // http://en.opera.se/
Antonin Artaud, El teatro y su doble. Edhasa, 2011
Maaike Bleeker, Visuality in the Theatre (The locus of looking). Palgrave Mc Millan, 2008
Roger Bernat i Ignasi Duarte (ed.). Querido Publico, Centro Parraga, 2009
Albert Camus, L’estrany. Editorial Proa Butxaca. 2002
Paul Claudel, El informe de Brodeck. Salamandra, 2007
J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians. Penguin Books 1982
Herman Hesse, Le loup des steppes. Calmann-Levy, 2006
Aldus Huxley, Un mundo feliz. Plaza y Janes, 1991
Jordi Oliveras (ed). Sis propostes per reapropiar-nos de la cultura. Raig Verd Editorial, 2016
Magda Polo, Roberto Fratini, Bàrbara Raubert. Filosofia de la danza. Universitat de Barcelona, 2015
Jacques Rancière, El Espectador Emancipado, ELLAGO, 2010
Videography and other links
It is like a large animal deep in sleep – Marina Mascarell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPculZgiyO8
I had a blue bicycle, they have my blue bicycle – Marina Mascarell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBMeV3GjISA
Today your black shoes are grey – Marina Mascarell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWtE_kO23kM
Interview to Marina Mascarell, about Mongrel: https://vimeo.com/141644736 , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDNdvpINxlI
Roger Bernat, fragments on the audience’s body http://www.teatrelliure.com/webantiga/1213/documents/ddt/ddt16/DDT16.02.3Fragments.pdf
Crystal Pite. Speech: Conflict is vital: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG5S31Q7DPM&ebc=ANyPxKqMEVdSCZJxGHrRSt-uGPVRrej1NaUniSdc6UVQ8mYqk2z3xH4iM7YPqHyiVHchQf__o2mdi782qcScPG2zKbNCicIiNw
Lloyd Nelson, on the critics received after Can we talk about this: https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/lloyd-newson/
Lecture of Jaques Rancière on Democracie(s), after the representation of Numax-Fagor-Plus by Roger Bernat: https://soundcloud.com/roger-bernat-269429877/jacques_ranciere_toulouse
Roberto Fratini. “Danzar las cosas por su nombre”. Sobre DV8: http://mercatflors.cat/blog/danzar-las-cosas-por-su-nombre-por-roberto-fratini/
Barbara Raubert, “Jo i els altres”. Sobre Hofesh Schechter: http://mercatflors.cat/blog/jo-i-els-altres-per-barbara-raubert/
Fondly do we hope… Fervently do we pray – Bill T. Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGvfK_M-uhQ
Babel – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhTQ86gY3qk
Can we talk about this? – DV8/Lloyd Nelson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESDkAlpTMQg
Political Mother – Hofesh Schechter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3UESGMPXao
Bedroom Folk – Gay Behar & Sharon Eyal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmVS1LvD1qU
The Statement – Crystal pite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rragD1P34NA
The You Show – Crystal Pite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z38suCkaISI
Situation – Hans van Manen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_w7OX6QtaU
Monument for a Dead Boy – Rudi van Dantzig. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d121fIEBbM&nohtml5=False
Chamber – Medhi Walersky. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdTtHfmvM9s
Bella Figura – Jirí Kylián https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InVnSbqEJpY