Posted by: strugglesome | September 20, 2011

Come Play Wiz Me: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa Present Play

As a non-dancer I can honestly say that it’s amazing how much of my understanding of dance comes down to rhythm. And I don’t just mean the rhythm of the music, or of the dance move, I mean the internal rhythm. As far as I have been able to deduce, the internal rhythm of a human being seems to be as unique as a finger print. And what creates that rhythm? Is it cultural? Spiritual? Emotional? Well, the answer is, as always, yes. And you can learn that lesson from other people, or you can learn it from yourself, but it’s best to do a combination of the two, really. At least, that’s what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa do in their shared creation, Play, and it clearly works for them.

Many scholars posit that sports come from preparation for warfare. War is a summer sport, or at least, it was in ancient Greece. So when the winter came and you could no longer make it comfortably from Athens to Sparta, you practiced, you made a game out of it. In that way football is just a fun way to practice fighting. So that’s sports for you. But from whence come games? Games are educational, they teach us about patterns, they teach us about rules and they teach us about winning. And losing. These are all important things. And the sad thing about growing up is that you stop playing games, or if you do play games, you play the sick and sad grown up kind. But we who work in performance, we are the lucky ones, because we get to play all the time. We pretend we are not what we are, we make a profession out of games. And dance, well, dance can so easily be a game, a way to physically play with another person. But what if the other person plays by different rules? Then things get really interesting.

And Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa definitely do not play by the same rules. She’s a traditionalist, he’s a post-modernist. She like routine, repetition and a fixed course, he wants to just play things by ear. When they play chess, she wins. When they compare dance moves his chaos infects her order, derailing her precision in a beautiful way.  Staged in the massive Prince Music Theater, the piece begins with musicians seated on various small platforms, their black and grey toned outfits (costumes by Lieve Meeussen) standing in stark relief to the pale stage. Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa are themselves making music, and they are joined by Patrizia Bovi, Gabrielle Miracle, Olga Wojciechowska and Tsubasa Hori. After a few moments, however, the dancers put aside their instruments, slip off the more restrictive parts of their outfits, and have at it. They play chess, surrounded on each corner of the stage by oversize chess pieces. They play with masks ( a strange section which seemed to come out of no where),  with jumps and twirls, and with imprinting each other’s movement vocabulary on the body.  But each is individually stronger when they are dancing the dance they know best, and more tentative outside of their own style, they seem to be still learning. Which may in fact be the point, the homage to Pina Bausch, the choreographer who brought these two dancers together. After all, games are about learning as well as playing.

As is the case with many games, it’s not that this isn’t fun to watch, but it’s probably a lot more fun to do. Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa clearly know each other’s bodies well, they have the familiarity and enjoyment of long acquaintance. They dance a tango like a couple at a milonga, and what they lack in skill they make up for in concentration. They sing to each other, blindfolded. They laugh, they joke, they enjoy each other so much that it’s enjoyable for us to watch. But it’s not necessarily a stunning or magnificent performance. It’s warm and loving and inclusive, but not astonishing or surprising. When Shivalingappa sits at the front of the stage and discusses the idea that “consciousness is a mirror on which one thousand images may arise”, or when the dancers start to sing a Terra Naomi song, we can’t help but smile, feeling happy that these two are having a good time. For all the hype, press and publicity surrounding these dancers, specifically Shivalingappa, it’s actually a rather simple work of performance, straightforward, enjoyable, often touching, not particularly earth shattering, but certainly worth watching. If only because you like to watch people at play.

Play has ended its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it run at the Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival but you can find out more about the show and the performers here.


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