Text by Anastasio Koukoutas
Photos by Aris Papadopoulos, Periklis Pravitas
If hearing the word ‘sauvage’ brings to mind a simplistic division between primitive and civilized, or, even worse, domesticated images of our consumerist culture promoting a perfume; Natasha Sarantopoulou’s playful duo (with her partner in crime, Ioanna Antonarou) avoids any such recognizable categorizations. Her own version of Sauvage is a happy catastrophe, a dance theatre work which confuses the boundaries between self/other, whole/divided, and hidden/revealed. Its parodic strategy lies in the distortion of what rigidly defines as ‘impersonating’ with images that seem to be taken from horror films, drag, and pop culture; a mélange of uncanny bodily gestures and facial expressions that disrupt the very ‘civilized’ notion of human.
The imagery in Sauvage, though handcrafted and simple, is purely genuine; a flying wig, an astral vortex, a punk moment of exuberance and head banging, while we are trying to figure out the uncanny world the two performers inhabit. Their gazes marveled with something they have never seen before ― maybe it is idiosyncrasy or it is just us that their glaring eyes are trying to perceive? ― their heads popping out of a large-scale black brick wall ― the kind of puppetry you’d have a taste for if you ever liked Beetlejuice or the Addams Family as a kid. A hand sticks out occasionally to grab a shoulder while two other arms are swaying helplessly in the air, creating the impression of a ‘monstrous’ double-headed entity who might be having a hard time coordinating its limbs, movements, gestures. Their facial repertoire is spastic, funny, panicky, but you need a moment to grasp these wondrous faces before you start laughing.
Maybe laughter is caused by the mechanics that betray the motor purpose of human movement; stumbling, crushing, and falling are the counter forces of every attempt to be upright and erect, forces that pertain to the failure to properly suggest the very humanness of these beings. What we have here is a proliferation of unreadable bodily ejaculations, the kind of gestures that can no longer be simply read as embodied communication; a fluttering head, a bundle of arms, a sudden spurt of legs, and of course, their faces ― a mesh of distorted and illegible expressions. All these irregular, surreal, funny details of ‘grotesque theatricality’ seem to resist the easy assignment of meaning to movement and gesture; rather, they test what is most valuable in ‘reading’ one’s personality — human intentionality that goes hand in hand with the communication effect. When humans exaggerate their facial and gestural expressions, they urge you to understand something that they want to communicate. But, in this case, what are we invited to understand?
In the second act of this weird show, the ‘wall’ is torn apart, the two performers now totally exposed, they use the bricks as props ― their exploration is anything but conforming. If walking is the simplest act of self-presentation, a praxis that reveals the physiognomy of the body, here duck walking ― a mild appropriation of vogueing, however not simply used as a stylistic reference from an inventory of queer practices ― suggests again a blurring of the body and its human boundaries. Here movements are not used to impress, to involve the viewer in a kind of kinaesthetic value that would testify to what is historically appreciated in dance (i.e. bodies showing off their elegance and aptitude for rhythmicality). On the contrary, the bodies in Sauvage remain disjointed, uncoordinated, invoking maybe a parapraxis towards the extreme aestheticization of dance. By establishing this kind of alienating distance, this type of incongruity of bodily manners is somehow liberating us from any expectations towards any rational progression of the show.
As soon as the electronic music by Acid Arab kicks in, the two performers dive in a frenzy state of dancing; there’s head banging, ring kicks, stumbling, jolting, their wigs fly angrily all over the place ― one might even be tempted to call it an incident of choreomania. This excessive outburst of movement anarchy, however, is not sustained longer than the music piece. Everything falls back into a retreated strangeness, with the two characters hiding again behind the remaining brick wall. What happened a minute ago, during the moment of exuberance and untamed corporeality remains however an undiscovered area. Here, the piece is exposed to the wildest of dramaturgical questions: what do we do with this strangeness, this wilderness we created?
Though it is only expressed as an aporia, it is also a choreographic problem which many dance shows often struggle with. Sometimes things are resolved with a faded end, sometimes they may require to go deeper into the unknown, to explore what goes beyond any somatic commonsense. If we see the former happening over and over again, then maybe it’s time we insisted more on the latter, for the pleasure of discovering something forgotten. Sauvage is a promise that this area is possible, but not yet fully discoverable.
A performance of Sauvage is coming up this Friday 15 July on Syros, at Akropoditi Dancefest. More info here.