Venice Dance Biennale review – Wayne McGregor delivers sinners and shapeshifters | Dance

leonora Carrington is a guiding spirit of the 2022 Venice Art Biennale, where the main exhibition borrows the title from her children’s book, The Milk of Dreams. The untethered hybrid figures of the great Surrealist are also evoked in Tobias Gremmler’s hypnotic digital artwork Fields (★★★★ ren), shown as part of the Dance Biennial conducted by Wayne McGregor. The festival’s overall theme is ‘boundless’ and serves as a rebuttal to any Parish destination for Brexitland dance, as well as a reaffirmation of international collaboration and the fusion of art forms with new technologies.

The shape-shifting virtual dancers that Gremmler created for his scenographic installation are cast over parallel mesh screens. These looping sequences find wispy bodies that slowly form to give the shortest of solos, duets and group dances before dissolving in a whirl of movement that abstractly evokes twisting strings of tendons and wavy hair. As the energy builds up, evaporates and rises again, it gradually resembles a series of life cycles, one ethereal dance after another within a vortex of space and time.

Fields achieves its greater power when two figures merge into one mass before separating, each with an imprint of the other as they progress. As in a real pas de deux, the dancers color each other’s performance and unite to become more than the sum of its parts. These digital dances are devoid of the sweat, characterization and sheer immediacy of human performance but, crucially, not the emotion. Fields’ poignancy is partly due to the eerily soothing tones of the soundscape, offset by rumbling bass tones.

Eerily Soothing… Fields by Tobias Gremmler. Photo: Andrea Avezzù

Gremmler, whose previous motion-capture work has included collaborations with Björk, essentially frees these ghost dancers who fly, soar and at one point meet like trapeze performers in mid-air. Their limbs can become wings, we see a back bend or leg extension take shape before fading, and the merging of so much virtual flesh is both playful and profound as the figures – torn by forces beyond their control – strive to connect. make during their short existence.

Elsewhere in McGregor’s program there is no shortage of living, breathing dancers. Fifteen of these can be found in Gauthier Dance’s The Seven Sins (★★★ renvers), a contraction show with a aptly enviable lineup of choreographers, one for each offense. The omission of the word ‘deadly’ from the title indicates compassion for some of these sinners, such as Marco Goecke’s portrait of a glutton, addicted not to food but to heroin. It’s a bare-chested solo with a kind of midnight energy, dancer Gaetano Signorelli’s skin itches and his chain belt jingles, though putting the piece on Heroin from the Velvet Underground is too on the nose – you feel all the rush and run already in Signorelli’s burning whirls.

The Seven Sins – Pride, choreography by Marcos Morau.
The Seven Sins – Pride, choreography by Marcos Morau. Photo: Jeanette Bak

For a choreographer, the sin of laziness may be the short straw or the joker. While the grim accompaniment of Aszure Barton’s duet suggests that a pianist barely has the energy to play, her dancers are locked in a restless movement: an embodiment of how laziness makes you feel rather than the behavior itself. A dancer bangs his head on the floor; neither of them knows what to do with themselves. But their apathy can’t help but become contagious and it’s not the only piece to run out of steam. The same goes for Sharon Eyal’s otherwise dastardly study of envy, who has the most balletic language of the evening, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s opening essay on greed, with philosophizing voiceover and gripping dancers dressed in mint-colored suits and banknote scarves.

Several choreographers anchor their sin in an everyday reality. Sasha Waltz’s furious, strobe-lit dance of wrath between a couple, their screams on the run, spirals from a seemingly domestic quarrel to an epic showdown and existential fury. When the lights of the house come on for Marcos Morau’s piece, you’re left thinking about your own pride and that of five women in matching blue dresses, each ready for their close-up. Morau gives us pride as a kind of cult, with incantations that demand your attention; it’s full of angular arrangements and sharp elbows forward.

You’d expect Hofesh Shechter’s lust exercise to really boom, but most of his movement is slow-motion, the dancers embarrassed by their desire. Shechter’s piece is notable for its subjects’ self-awareness of their sin. Despite being distractingly dressed in white outfits reminiscent of Woody Allen’s comical white-clad sperm, these are bodies convincingly drowned out by urges—the trembling limbs of the opening moves leading to a finale in which half of the dancers are helpless. crawls to the open legs of the others .

Carnation by Rocio Molina.
Carnation by Rocio Molina. Photo: © Simone Fratini

Together the pieces don’t get enough collective power and you wish more choreographers had let loose with the hamminess of the concept to match the shocky whisper of the name of each sin between the pieces.

What they lack is known in flamenco as elf – a powerful hit of pure emotion and connection. That is by no means scarce in Carnation (★★★★ ren) By the flamenco dancer and choreographer Rocío Molina, who received the Silver Lion of the festival.

This is Molina’s own reckoning, not with sin, but with countless forms of desire, chiefly the sexual and spiritual. The elegantly austere set design by Juan Kruz has an installation of four benches that fall domino-like into a fifth that stands defiantly strong, against the current. It is a beautiful symbol for Molina’s modus operandi, in which she turns traditions and expectations upside down with mischievous humor and disarming openness.

She sinks her head into the fabric – literally in the opening routines as, bathed in pink light, she repeatedly climbs onto the back of a chair in the center of the stage, slides down to caress the seat with her face, legs behind. lifted her into the air. This leaves the soles of her shoes visible – a captivating personal perspective that amplifies the impact of Molina’s outbursts of furious footwork. Later, one of those shoes is hurled at violinist Maureen Choi.

It takes a while to adjust to the specific rhythms of Carnación as it unfolds at an unhurried pace, most prominently in rope-tying scenes as Molina silences her wonderful singer, Niño de Elche, who tenderly participates in a ritual of submission and dominance at odds with some assumptions about the machismo of the art form. Molina’s shiny braid becomes yet another rope as she puts it in his mouth and leads him across the stage; later she undresses to strap her own body in scenes that, like those exposed shoe soles, help us feel the flamenco blows on thighs and chest. In a production where clothes must be both bitten and worn, her costumes include a smock and a huge wicker basket that doubles as a skirt and then headgear and even becomes her prison. Such outfits often obscure her arms and accentuate exceptional wrist work.

Molina has an amazing controlled presence, although the piece could achieve even more distilled power if it fluctuated less in tone. But that’s the milk of Carrington’s dreams and while the wicker-wearing Molina practically dissolves into a back wall amid this loving procession of fantasy, the bold flamenco dancer running surreal too.

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