Hypnotic, Other-worldly and death-defying.
Astonishingly, in the first half of this mesmerising sixty minute piece by Mexican Choreographer Lukas Avendaño, the fourteen male dancers remain lying down. Like a gentle ocean wave, they roll onto the stage as one body. The minimal but detailed choreography is slow, undulating but more than anything, totally hypnotic. Every minute or so a new movement or direction begins and I found myself scanning the line-up to see which dancer would instigate it and what form that new movement would take. Finding myself totally captivated, I ceased to see the individual dancers and felt sucked into the coordinated, liquid effect of their motion.
What I’ve failed to mention is that for most of the piece the fourteen dancers are completely naked. That is a deliberate omission. Comparisons with the Greek genius Dimtris Papaioannou, whose use of the naked body in his work is legendary, are inevitable. But Avendaño’s approach differs radically. I, and others I talked to after, agreed that in this piece you simply stop seeing the performers are naked. This is partly owing to the long, recumbent opening section, where the natural inclination to compare and admire their bodies, is denied by the audience’s unusual perspective. This is a deliberate choice by Avendaño who, because of his own body, rejects fixed gender divisions, and identifies as a Muxe artist (Muxe is the Zapotek Mexican term for those with male genitals who socially, affectively and personally play a feminine role). Where Papaioannou’s work is intrinsically homoerotic, Avendaño’s aim is to rail against stereotypes of male beauty and in particular, in this work, against the stereotypical, macho cowboy of his native Mexico.
As the work progresses, the dancers interact more and more with the simple, tense, macramé-like set. They climb its ropes and slither through white neon circles. For me, the water-like feel of the piece continued here with this change of mood. As the set rose into the air, it was as if we were witnessing an underwater ballet, with dancers diving down to reach other dancers on the sea bed. This section, culminated in a gasp-inducing sequence where four dancers were suspended, spun and disappeared dangerously though those circles far above the level of the stage. One had barely recovered from the shock of how daring they were, when they ‘swam’ down again to an emptier stage, where their four alter-egos tenderly caught them and brought them to safety, releasing them also from the ropes that had suspended them.
The piece finishes with an energetic tribal dance, that gives the otherwise languid piece, a crowd-pleasing rousing end. For me, this part was the least innovative, but it served as a fitting climax to an astonishing, unique and breathtaking piece of art. It is Holland Festival’s ability to find and programme work like this that makes it a world-class festival. Nicholas Stanley at Ita Rabozaal in Amsterdam on 15th June 2023