Performance in which music, film hold their own with dance
“Barcelona in 48 Hours,” a collaboration of dance, film, photography, and live music at Dance Theater Workshop opens with five musicians amidst a luxurious stage environment created by set designer Illya Azaroff. For what seems like a long stretch, the band, Edward Ratliff + Five Agents, fills the stage without the accompaniment of dance or film––the music organically meanders, easing us into an environment equally luxurious with the one in which the musicians stand. It’s as if they have taken the stage space and gently nudged it out past the audience. By the end of the song, we’re all in a sweetly warm tango bar in Barcelona.
More and more it seems that choreographers and dancers are choosing to work with composers whose role is much greater than providing music for the dance. Welcome attention is given to the live performance of the music itself.
In this particular case, there is extraordinary balance among several elements of expression. The collaborators, composer and dancer as well as photographer, have all chosen each other. Each force has its own artistic energy while at the same time serving and supporting the other parts, all together rushing toward a complex, integrated whole. Each part is seen on its own as well as in unison with the other elements.
Throughout the performance, solo meditation on the film elements of the performance also emerges. Shot by Anja Hitzenberger in 48 hours in Barcelona, documenting the days of dancer David Zambrano’s brief visit and composed almost entirely of still photographs edited to create a deeply rhythmic sensation of movement, the film moves in step with the dominant forces of a traveler’s life. The images are deeply romantic, portraying the comforts and pains of arrival and departure, of being in and in between places. Movement is at once the focus of the film and something caught out of the corner of your eye as you look away.
The ability of the music and film to be as strong a part of the performance as Zambrano’s physical presence is profound. Born in Venezuela, Zambrano lived in New York for 15 years before moving to Amsterdam, the city that he calls home base now. He is always moving–––travelling, performing, and teaching dance. He has been improvising and performing improvisation for more than 20 years. He has honed his craft, developed structures with which he is intimately familiar, and come to trust his own instincts to such a degree that once he slides into the moment on stage there is no way to not follow.
It is tremendously moving to witness smart choices made in a hair’s-breadth of an instant––spaces open up before you, rhythms beat through your feet to your gut. He thrusts his chest out and you feel valor. He describes a complicated but graceful little squiggle with one hand while running quickly from one side of the stage diagonally across to the other and you’ve shared an inside joke that makes you chuckle. He is so completely himself on stage that you feel you should be more yourself all the time.
The only time in which it is difficult to access the place he inhabits is during a duet with his longtime dance partner, Mat Voorter, who appears both in the live performance and in the film. In the film, Voorter is Zambrano’s companion as they move through Barcelona––the dancing they do together there is casual and easy, which somehow comes through in still photographs. On stage, their relationship doesn’t seem as easy. That may be due to the fact that their duet is the first dancing in the evening and it takes time for both the performers and the audience to warm to the improvisation. When the two allow themselves to slow down and make decisions with more attentive focus, the result is often touching and surprising, but much of the duet during this performance seemed rushed.
In Zambrano’s solos that follow, the rhythm settles and the environment created by the music and the film grows deeper and wider through Zambrano’s wonderful dancing, full of staccato steps and winding, twisting arms. Dropping to the ground, flat and reforming himself standing a second later he departs and arrives over and over again. The journey is worth watching.