Nederlands Dans Theater:  Jorma Elo (Part 2)

‘Pneuma,’ ‘Z/na,’ and 'Claude Pascal’

by Maria Technosux

May -- June, 2003 -- Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam


Second sight:  Jorma Elo as The Hanged Man in “Z/na” (chor: Ohad Naharin), Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam (NL), 11 Jun 2003, “Creative Forces” program.

Jorma Elo is The Hanged Man in this "ballet." Visit your local occultist and look up the underlying Tarot symbolism. Every mythology in the world seems to have its own version of the Hanged Man.

The Hanged Man sits on a chair and swings the one end of a long rope round and round. Meanwhile he is being teased by a female dancer (Lesley Telford) who prepares the noose for him with the other end of the same rope. She places her ass in the orbit of his swinging rope, which forces her skirt upwards, a sick parody of Marilyn Monroe's blown skirt. The rope is obviously a phallic symbol, but in this version sex is suffocating, sisyphean. Certainly not S&M, rather disheartening and in a way contrite (hence the court of judges in the back?). He doesn't even seem to notice her and she might as well not be there.

I love Naharin's ballets. I know that “Z/na” was widely hated, but I don't care. I once saw Ohad Naharin himself in a video (“Total Eclipse”) french-kissing a woman. Rather than a mere kiss, it looked more like a snake swallowing up its prey. Despite being completely predatory, it did not look like an act of violence. I was fascinated. These are the paradoxes that I look for in dance.

She ties him up bondage-style and swings him around on his chair. He is telling us things and cackling like a madman. The language is incomprehensible to me, but he stresses the individual words in such a manner that I hear (s)lashes and jagged lines. He is not shouting, but stressing and spacing his words and cackling hysterically. The Hanged Man wasn't really an Asshole with a capital A, just pathetically sad.

Things turned plenty shady when he took up his camera. At first this was innocent, flirting with all the female dancers around him. The filmed footage was displayed in real time on a white-paint-on-black-screen in the back of the stage. But then, he proceeded to interrogate a female dancer (Lydia Bustinduy) as she undressed. He approached her, questioning her repetitively. She took off her top. Facing her directly with the cam, he slowly slid the camera between her breasts and went all the way down to her navel. She was begging him (to stop?), again using a language incomprehensible to me. He wasn't aggressive. As I have explained, he doesn't have to be. The mere act of his sliding down the camera on her was enough to freak her out.

This was obviously a simulation of a molestation scene, and because of the camera it was made extra obscene, since the close-up of her naked body was projected onto the screen. As if our spectatorship from our seats in the audience wasn't enough, the molestation was brought even closer via the use of the camera. Has anyone here seen the snuff rape-scene in the movie “Strange Days”? That's sort of what it was like. This moment in the ballet was very emotional for me. Mind you, not because I have been molested, but because of its connotations to the male gaze and my own experiences with that male gaze. The camera becomes a phallic symbol, becomes an assault weapon, and is extended to the gaze of whole audience...it felt like punishment.

But I still think that he is a great dancer, even when he punishes me like this for passively observing the violation of another female as "entertainment," yet at the same time reminding me of my own experiences, as in "she is not me but she is me in a way". My goodness, I could almost see the smirk on his face when he subsequently began to zoom-in on the audience, as if to say: "You are all guilty of watching. You thought you were safe and hidden in the dark crowd, but you are watching me and I do see you. Who is the most perverse? Who is the voyeur here?" What is the proper form of audience behaviour in this case? A proper audience simply sits, watches and applauds at the end. Each audience-member was stone-faced or smiling nervously as they saw themselves projected on the screen in the back. I literally sank deep into my chair, terrified of the prospect of being filmed.

But Elo doesn't have to smirk. Once again, I do not understand how he manages to pull this one off so matter-of-factly. I think of how rude and in-your-face so-called "professional" cameramen are these days. He doesn't have to be into people's faces like that. He doesn't have to enforce anything. He simply points the lens onto the voyeurs in the room and that's enough to spark a collective cringe. How the hell does he do that? How does he manage to pull it off and still look convincing? Call it calculated ignorance if you want, it simply doesn't look that way.

This act of filming the audience reminded me of a quote by Ann Cooper Albright:

"The physical presence of the dancer - the aliveness of her body - radically challenges the implicit power dynamic of any gaze, for there is always the very real possibility that she will look back. Even if the dancer doesn't literally return the gaze of the spectator, her ability to present her own experience can radically change the spectatorial dynamics of the performance." (1997)

He literally returned the gaze. It was plainfully and painfully obvious that he could see us as we saw him and through him. I thanked my lucky stars for my seat on the balcony where he couldn't see me. And I hope that admitting this will not inspire him to point his camera upwards next time... where is that paper bag I said I was gonna put over my head...

"Claude Pascal"

Third sight: Jorma Elo as Jean-Pascale in “Claude Pascal” (chor: Jiri Kylian), Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam (NL), 11 Jun 2003, “Creative Forces” program.

Elo, as the Quirky Victorian Jean-Pascale, tells me that: "When you switch the light off, you see only the inside of yourself."

Jean-Pascale tells me that he wants to keep me in the dark. Not because he wants me to be ignorant, but because interpretations of a dancer's movement are always subjective and self-reflexive. The mirrors in the background of "Claude Pascal" have a very special meaning to me. You comprehend yourself by trying to comprehend the Other. I guess that we end up observing other people (such as dancers) because we can't (or don't want to) observe our own selves. Being surrounded by mirrors doesn't make the task easier.

As for Jean Pascale, not only is he tragically funny, but impeccable, faultless, in perfect timing and synch with the background tape, but at the same time breakable, awkward, vulnerable, losing his hair. I wonder if he would show me the black spots on his legs if I asked him to (spotless, absolutely spotless).

I read about Elo's own choreography on the net and only got more confused. His own works are described as "dense," "rich," and "complex." But also -- and this I did not expect! --as "urgent," "ceaseless," "neurotic," "oppressive," and "restless." Sounds like my sort of thing! Seriously, I was planning to spend my whole budget for the month October on seeing La La La Human Steps again, but I will try to put some cash aside to see his creations as well.

Part 1 of NDT: Jorma Elo by Maria Technosux


Edited by Jeff

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