2D Dance. Sintija Siliņa dance performance’s ‘Rock Bottom /// Bedre’ review

01/12/2021

Max Ryynänen

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.

Rock Bottom /// Bedre had its premiere in 2018. The flat internet version that I looked at, on November 10, 2020, was performed and recorded in the black hall at the Arts Printing House in Vilnius May 10, 2019, as one of the treats of the New Baltic Dance festival – which I have, way back, happily visited myself too. Distributed on YouTube, catered with a row of rock music classics on the right side, from The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony to Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit (this internet twist did not disturb me), and, 2D, without the smell and the fatigue that I am used to in Dance Festivals, but also, without the moments when the intensification gained from the performance breaks into sweat on the skin, and without anyone whispering in my ear “let’s leave fast when this ends, so we make it to our next performance”. I felt like watching this all the time a bit less intensively than “live”, but never dropping out – which often happens at the site, for a variety of reasons. The audiovisual recording worked well, and I was thinking that partly this might have to do with very clear-cut lighting and music dramaturgy. Of course, this, in the end, might be an interpretation from this side of the screen, but still, most importantly, I did not feel like losing anything.

The work is presented as a “collaborative stage work among artists to disclose the processes of one of the mysterious illnesses these days – depression”, and of course, like most of us, I have suffered (happily just once). Mine was at the end of the 1990s, and I think that it erupted for reasons not only related to my life situation (on the verge of adulthood, broken relationship, studies finishing) but also because I was working too much.

It is for me, so, not that hard to grab the topic, but even without this experience, I think that the performance somehow would have conveyed the process of the disease which, of course, can be very different for different individuals in different life situations.

Rock Bottom begins with a long, static part, so long that it does not anymore just produce emptiness and static atmosphere on stage, the dancers in different positions: it writes on the stage its own length, and produces a statement-like gesture. Then the stage erupts in a bit of a twisted, dynamic, not aggressive, but a somewhat febrile physical outburst, like one where the energy is already tired, I feel, or somewhat disturbed, the dancers giving, for a moment, everything they have.

Then we continue our mental roller coaster ride with darkness and solitude (the lights focusing on making a figure lonely on stage). Shadowboxing in the spotlight, and moving around the stage together with aggressive cymbals and drums playing in the background, the figure alone…and then, long darkness falls, so long, that it becomes a semiotic thing. It says not just that this is a natural part of the process, but it says this is a gesture you should reflect upon. It is a clear message again, going a bit over the line of sensuality to the side, where awakening to the gesture is unavoidable, the gesture becoming clear and open stage language.

Dancers move suddenly in a less dark audience, and talk, recite something…sounding like lore. This blue darkness is, together with “normal dance piece light” and total darkness, the atmospheric colour of the performance.

Close to midway, the lonely, chaotically bursting and, vice versa, standing and posing dancers enter a zone of human contact – a hand falling on the chin, someone riding someone else – and then suddenly leaving her, doing plastic movements. Now sighs, helloing voices, and again lore-sounding recitals, add to the audio-texture.

It is not that typical – I am here not saying that this work would not work holistically, it is actually the opposite – that the music, the lights, and the dance, and the talks, would be so clearly distinguishable as perceivable particles forming the work. It is like this would be a 3 wo/man band playing lights, music and dancing bodies – with souls reciting lore. The bodies are somewhat passive-aggressive in many of their dialogical moves towards and with others, but mostly it is their loneliness, in mental outbursts as much as in silent poses in blue light, that strike the viewer as so human. “Square one” of the piece is always the dancer statically in a square – and we returned to it, and the clear movements between static and energetic, between order and chaos, are well “documented” allegories of depression states – or at least this is how I interpret them.

The piece was more music, darkness and clear somatic expressions in the beginning, in a way that could have been looked at as very clear-cut visual theatre accompanied by a strong “soundtrack of a depressed wo/man’s life”. It slowly turned into a normal dance piece, the normal here not pointing to anything negative, but to a situation where more of a mash-up of dancers, their bodily dialogues, and contemporary body language from small shaking, turns of the head to art dervish (rolling, circling) activities took place. After a long dialogue, accompanied by echoing recitals, darkness falls again, and the film takes over – for me, though, just another film, a film in a film, yet something that I could recognise that was presented as an audiovisual culture at the place, partly just because the quality was worse. There we engaged with the rocks, the rock bottom, beautifully, gently, allowing the performance to end. We touched the rock bottom. Beautiful material, the stoniness present.

The ride was conceptual, analytic, maybe even psycho-analytic, but without forgetting the body of depression. I found it strong, and its expression meaningful, right to the end, and it left me meditating on the topic – without forgetting some of the strong scenes, hairs rolling around the stage, bodies touching, and lights going on and off. The music, mainly the chaos jazz, still runs in my head.

Choreography, idea: Sintija Silina, Dramaturgy: Linda Krūmiņa, Choreography, dance: Laura Kušķe, Alise Madara Bokaldere, Jana Jacuka and Līga Ūbele, Video: Kristaps Epners, Music: Maksims Šenteļevs, Lighting: Oskars Pauliņš, Costume design: Liene Dobrāja and Katrīna Liepa, Design: Aigars Opincāns, Photography: Margarita Germane and Billijs Locs, Production: Agnese Skara. Bedre / Rock Bottom performance is created with the support of the State Culture Capital Foundation, Riga City Council and AKKA/LAA. First performance: 2018.

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