Stillness in Mexico

October 30, 2007

When the stars are in the right place, stillness can be as exciting as movement. I was in Monterrey, Mexico, at a dance festival last week, and I saw stillness used powerfully by two companies: Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Company, and Grupo Krapp from Argentina. (Both companies were outrageously good and radically different from each other.)

    In the Chinese Company, which presented The Cold Dagger, choreographed by Lin Han-Zhong and Ma Bo, each person’s path on the stage was deliberate, often placed on a square of turf intended to be a chessboard. Some dancers were still as others moved about the squares. But I didn’t think about the game of chess. I thought about how time can pass some people by while others jump in. I thought about how a person can look like a hedge in front of a house while the children play. I thought about how some people are happy with what they have while others continually search.     All this was suggested by the grounded quality of their stillness—a noble quality, a readiness. Willy Tsao, the artistic director of the company, said in a dialogue later (which I moderated) that the title meant that each of us, while perhaps living a peaceful life, must be ready to attack or defend at a moment’s notice. That’s why the bodies were quiet but alive with awareness. At one point, 13 dancers gathered around one dancer lying on the floor as though dead. Curiosity and sadness. Then she got up and walked away, and they kept staring at the spot where she had been. Stillness, emptiness, memory.

    In Mendiolaza, the six performers of Grupo Krapp were so erratic, so crazed (stoned? depressed? rebellious?) that when they stopped and froze, it was like the eye of a storm. One time they were running in place, and they stopped dead and looked straight out to the audience. It was like they were thinking “Ohymgod, here we all are, I’m scared of what’s going to happen next.” Or,  “Anything could happen and I’m keeping my eyes on you.”  Or,”This is just a split-second break and what we are about to do is even crazier than what you’ve seen.” I held my breath. I loved being suspended in that moment when I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I could feel all their manic action contained in inaction.  

There are times in a theater when stillness makes me restless (especially if performers are posing). But during at these performances, the stillness made me bristle with alertness.

Note: The festival was the Festival Internacional de Danza-Extremadura – Lenguaje Contemporaneo, supported by the Forum Universal de las Culturas, a project affiliated with UNESCO.