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.
What is for sale, what can be bought, – humans, nature, is everything commodified? Has the natural body become a commodity and for sale, – have we humans? The performance Excursion seems to ask these relevant questions.
The setup of the performance could be characterised as a trip for art buyers. When arriving at the bus, the audience members (art buyers) are treated as consumers, differently according to their contribution of coins to the female guide, – a character drawing a lot of attention to herself on the bus journey. Audiences contributing are thus allowed to sit in the better seats upstairs in the double-decker bus.
The guide exploits the situation of the intimate space of the bus to elaborate on her unsatisfying life, playing different music and using the opportunity to boss people around a bit.
After about 25 minutes the bus stops at a green “wild” field with white flowers. The guide organises the crowd and takes the group on a 5 min walk. Here, still in the field, a man is buried in the soil up to his knees, meaning he can sway but seemingly not move from the place. He is stuck like a moveable sculpture. He is dressed only in a nude/”skin” coloured leotard, naked but not naked, – a “natural” figure but, as his sexual organs are “erased”, not a realistic figure. He slowly touches his face in a kind of self-absorbed presence, then speeds up the tempo, bows/folds to the ground – as if attempting to dissolve into the soil but retrieves from this position quickly swaying with an extended arm.
With short walks in between, the group is taken to a few other sites in the field. At the second stop, the displayed “artefact” is a woman also in the “nude”, buried to her knees and with her hair in a classic tight hair bun. Her movements are fast, she shakes and shivers, but also sways softly. She seems disturbed, chews on grass, spits it out, makes sounds.
3rd and 4th stop display another two female sculptures, one smiling, cheerful as if doing a task, – and with flowers acting as fake pubic hairs along her bikini line, moving slowly with closed eyes, – self-indulgent but also somehow aware. She thrusts (statue like) her fist in her mouth, buries her hands in the soil.
The 5th sculpture is a man. Apart from his nude suit, his upper torso is lined with what I believe must be purple physio tape, (adjusting some injury of the dancer), a sculpture yet also a (vulnerable) live person. He sways with closed eyes, like a plant in a storm.
The final piece of art is a hole in a ground, the apparent thought being that a sculpture/person was previously buried there, – a void. But hey, maybe a person/artwork could grow from the hole? The guide claims that it is the diamond of the exhibition.
Overall, the statues in the green field with white flowers, create a nice, simple aesthetic.
En route back to the bus, audience members are offered to have their feet washed, but nobody accepts the offer. Back on the bus, the busybody guide concludes that probably no-one can invest in the displayed objects, they should forget about them and take the coloured powder that she offers them. The situation could resemble an afterparty/vernissage reception, – the art has been seen and forgotten, party time is more interesting now.
In front of my computer, across the sea in a different time of the year, I must imagine how it would be to participate in this excursion. Without sensing any smells or getting sun in my eyes or perhaps feeling the wind softly on my skin.
In my interpretation, the performance is a critical comment on consumer society, exemplified by a (visual) art world. A world that uses people and lacks meaningfulness is commodified and crude, willing to buy “an empty hole” if it is labelled as art: the snobbishness, superficiality, and the “victims” (the guide) of it.
At the same time, the actual displays of the lonely natural/not natural artefacts/people in the field, have a disturbing, sometimes melancholic beauty to them, thus highlighting the value of art and people. Bodies and soft movements on a sunny day in a green field can indeed make us consent, even if the bodies are constrained and fixated.
And so, Excursion also points to what we are willing to accept, – in the name of money, art, entertainment. A gloomy prospect, but despite this, I am still left with a positive impression that no matter what, the body remains soft, vulnerable, strong, and determined.
Kamma Siegumfeldt has a background as a dancer and choreographer. She holds a BA in Rhetoric and an MA in Dancestudies, focusing on video dance. She has on and off written about dance and she has been an external lecturer at Copenhagen University and is currently an external examiner. She was the project manager of the Nordic–Baltic dance-encounters project keðja. She now works at Helsingør Theatre (DK), that every year presents the PASSAGE street theatre festival.
Photo: Excursion, 2015