“Boundary-less” is the motto of this year’s Dance Biennale in Venice. This also expresses a certain post-Covid euphoria. Wayne McGregor, who has put together the program for the second year as artistic director, means above all the artists who cross genre boundaries.
In a spectacular way, the audience can experience the boundlessness in Blanca Li’s immersive installation “Le Bal de Paris”. The Spanish choreographer combines dance and virtual reality in an innovative way. Their project was awarded the Golden Lion for “Best VR Experience” at the Venice Film Festival last year. Wayne McGregor is now bringing “Le Bal de Paris” back to Venice. The spectators in the columned hall of Ca’ Guistinian put on VR glasses and also have to shoulder an eight-kilogram backpack with technological equipment.
First they choose a suitable costume for their avatar – the noble robes were designed by Chanel. And then – although you are physically located in Venice – you suddenly find yourself at a glittering ball in Paris, gliding in a boat through a fantasy landscape with giant water lilies and hybrid creatures performing a water ballet. At the end, an exuberant cancan is danced in the “Chez Mimi” establishment. Blanca Li wanted the audience not to float through virtual worlds like a ghost, but also to have a physical experience – and become part of the show.
In addition to hundreds of virtual dancers, some real performers are also involved, touching the audience and encouraging them to dance along. “Le Bal de Paris” is an extragavanza made for the Instagram age. Even if advanced technologies are combined with conventional narratives, it is an overwhelming experience.
“Maggie The Cat” by Trajal Harrell sounds almost like an alternative. Blanca Li indulges in opulence and luxury, while the New York choreographer prefers camp instead of glamorous looks. While his inspiration for Maggie the Cat was Tennessee Williams’ southern drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Harrell was drawn to the connection between Maggie the Cat and the “catwalk.”
The ten performers stride across the stage like jaded models, but they don’t wear haute couture, instead they wrap bed sheets and towels around their heads and bodies or bolster themselves up with red sofa cushions. It is the servants of the plantation who fantasize here in a glamorous world. All are are here Maggie the hot cat. Harrell, who himself appears as Big Mama in a flower dress, casually dispels racial stereotypes and gender clichés. “Maggie The Cat” is certainly one of his most humorous pieces, and the diverse ensemble makes it a lustfully subversive spectacle. Trajal Harrell is represented at many European festivals this summer: In August he comes to Berlin with “The Köln Concert”.
Diego Tortelli has won a tender for a new Italian choreography. In “Fo:No” he examines the relationship between voice, body and identity. Based on the story of his father, who underwent multiple operations on the vocal cords, Tortelli designed an abstract choreography. Translating the loss of voice and the struggle for words into physical expression only succeeds to a limited extent.
This year, Saburo Teshigawara was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. The 68-year-old Japanese is an exceptional artist and an avant-gardist: the choreographer, dancer, painter, sculptor and designer has been enthusiastically celebrated in Europe since the 1980s. Wayne McGregor said at the award ceremony that he had developed an unmistakable dance language and created artistic ecosystems with his performances. Teshigawara is the first Asian artist to be awarded the Golden Lion at the Biennale Danza. The time when only white Europeans or Americans received the award is finally over.
Teshigawara presented his new interpretation of “Petrushka” at the Teatro Malibran. With wriggling limbs, he embodies the doll that comes to life. He focuses entirely on the drama of the unfortunate puppet and infuses her with a deep sadness. His dance partner Rihoko Sato has a short appearance as a ballerina, the problematic character of the “Mohren” was eliminated. At the end, Teshigawara peels the latex mask off his face and opens his mouth in a silent scream.
The Silver Lion went to the Spanish choreographer and dancer Rocio Molina, who combines the tradition of flamenco with contemporary dance in a furious way. Wayne McGregor has made smart, groundbreaking decisions that point to a new openness. The lanky Briton with his black outfits seems a bit like an alien in Venice. But he is a stroke of luck for the Biennale – and has given the festival new impetus.
The motto “boundless” also fits well with the intercultural company Marrugeku from Australia, which closes the Biennale Danza. On August 5th, Marrugeku will open the “Tanz im August” in Berlin.