2D Dance. Bad, worse, the worst. Agate Bankava performance’s ‘Good Contemporary Dance Performance ”Bad”’ review

01/21/2021

Anna Semenova-Ganz

The review was written as a part of the project 2D Dance where foreign authors assessed video recordings of several Latvian dance performances. 2D Dance is an experiment that studies if dance is a readable form of art when put on the screen, and how local choreographers’ work can be perceived by authors who know little or nothing about Latvian dance. Reviews will be complemented by online conversations with the authors of the articles and the works’ choreographers in question. The 2D Dance project’s primary goal is to develop and underline communication differences between communities in different countries, developing the ability to talk about the art of dance, gaining an international outline, and promoting Latvian artists’ recognition.

“I am worst at what I do best. And for this gift, I feel blessed.”

Kurt Cobain“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Everything looks like a good contemporary dance performance in the beginning. Five mature dancers in black (three female and two male) are moving almost synchronously in the black box. But already this synchronicity questions whether the performance is good or bad. Although the movement pattern is similar for everyone, each dancer has a personal movement quality, which makes the dance to look similar and diverse at the same time. One can say that the dancers just didn’t rehearse synchronicity enough or, maybe opposite, they put a lot of effort that their experienced bodies are creating this tiny imperfection? 

In any case, this beginning, which reminds more of the quiet leaf rustling than precise clock mechanism, creates and tunes the certain optic in the spectator’s eye, which will help to watch the following work by Latvian choreographer Agate Bankava.

The question about quality can be answered positively just by the age of dancers, which can be traced in their plasticity: there are no beginners on the stage, and they are aware of everything they do. But does their experience let them do something that looks bad? 

At some moment, the movement pattern starts to dissolve, the synchronicity fades, and some elements appear just here and there as a reminder of the first scene. This brings on the surface the idea that the body can do almost everything, yet the only thing it cannot do is stay the same. There are no similar movements per se, even if they look absolutely exact: the time is moving, and the body changes every moment. 

This text might continue as a dance review, but in the work ‘Good Contemporary Dance Performance “Bad”‘ not that much of the dance, as one could expect from the title. At some point, dancers embody the presence of the dramatic theatre with its expressive mimic, which is a no-no in the post-dramatic world of contemporary dance. 

The homogeneity of the dancing group is also deconstructed: some dancers are noticeably more active than others – even one main character emerges. Then the work develops from bad to worse with some pantomime scene, a fragile balance between physical theatre and almost circus. 

How much worse can it get? Doing her best, the choreographer directs the performance towards the visible awkwardness of street comedy like on medieval markets. Some of these genres were supposedly new even for such mature dancers so that they were noticeably challenged with few tasks, which was only increasing the comic effect. 

Being declared already in the title, the irony of the work is following the whole performance, bringing the audience sometimes to real laughter. 

Bankava plays with the expectations, presenting a performance that is hard to classify by genre and, at the same time, it stays performative, creates new concepts, explores the relations between bodies and proposes the new imaginary. It is still mainly the choreography, and this contract with the spectator is performed: there is a dancefloor, there are the dancers. What else would you expect? Floorwork, giving a vocal voice to the dancer, work in all directions, transgressive moment, voiceover in the Latvian language, body-object relations – the whole vocabulary of the contemporary dance is here. And if it isn’t the contemporary dance itself to question its own norms and borders then who else? Exactly, so ‘Good Contemporary Dance Performance “Bad”‘ is doing that.

Anna Semenova-Ganz lives and works as dance dramaturg in Hamburg and Moscow. She focuses her artistic research on the questions of identity, post-soviet body, the body politics and the place making (runs non-profit summer residency for artistic research “Lesnoye 11” near Moscow). Her recent performance “The Striker” was awarded with Russian National theatre prize “Golden Mask” in 2020.

Photo: ‘Good Contemporary Dance Performance “Bad”‘, Margarita Germane