A mixture of lyricism and pessimism sets the tone for festival’s ending

KALAMATA – A touch of lyricism but also a heavy dose of pessimism regarding modern society’s future prospects marked the end of the 13th Kalamata International Dance Festival last weekend. Punctual as always, dance lovers arrived from different parts of the country for the event that showcases the latest developments of the international contemporary dance scene and spreads across the southern city of Kalamata for 10 days every summer. Despite the late afternoon scorching heat, many people turned up at the port of Kalamata at 7 p.m. on Saturday to watch one of the parallel events, a site-specific duet for a dancer and an excavator. «Transports Exceptionnels,» by French choreographer Dominique Boivin (who had staged, along with Pascale Houbin, «Bonte Divine,» a poetic look at the medieval love story of Abelard and Heloise, at the beginning of the festival), turned out to be one of the festival highlights. For about 20 minutes, the body of dancer Philippe Priasso seemed to be in total harmony with the excavator, with both of them moving to the sounds of Maria Callas’s voice in compositions by Camille Saint-Saens. Set against the background of the breathtaking mountains of Kardamyli and with the light of the sun reflecting on the excavator window, the poetic performance evoked feelings of great tenderness. Priasso would at times run away from the machine and at others curl against it, lean on it and wrap his body around it. The excavator, operated by Eric Lamy, acted like a human being seeking love and tenderness. The two of them gave the impression of being caught in a relationship that goes around in circles, moving from great intensity to soothing calm and gentleness with the naivety of a children’s game. The audience remained captivated as the dancer kept toying with his indecision to either taunt the machine or become one with it. Co-founder of the Beau Geste dance company, Boivin also performed in Kalamata a few years ago. On the outskirts of Kalamata, at a local gym, Sweden’s Palle Dyrvall performed «Catastrophe Communication Combinatoria,» a tragi-comic monologue about failure and destruction that combined dance, movement and recitation. The production was jointly choreographed with Caroline Hainaut. In this interesting performance, Dyrvall was almost rambling at times in his monologue, while moving spasmodically, seemingly out of control. Tackling issues such as the uprooting of communities, our obsession with work, television and virtual reality and trying to emphasize his points with movements that resembled sign language, he attacked the evils of modern society. Like a madman on stage, he sometimes gave the impression of being lost in his own movements and words. Dyrvall sent a powerful message about society losing control and heading for a downfall, leaving the audience feeling helpless yet captivated by his seemingly incoherent yet well-orchestrated words and movements. The performance reached its climax when Dyrvall appeared to surrender and collapse, his blue suit fading against the gray sets, to the sound of deafening and ominous music. Leaving the venue, one could not help but think of what it is we are doing to ourselves and to the world around us and why we do not see the prevailing deterioration. This was the first visit to Greece for Dyrvall, who has danced with Les Ballets C. de la B. and was also offered the position of artist in residence at New York’s Movement Research in 1998, where he met Hainaut. The festival ended with «Import Export,» a performance by Belgian collective Les Ballets C. de la B. (Les Ballets Contemporains de la Belgique), choreographed by Koen Augustijnen. Augustijnen was inspired by Hubert Sauper’s 2004 documentary «Darwin’s Nightmare,» which examined the ecological disaster of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria and its social impact on the local population. A powerful start with rhythmical movements developed into a commentary on the power game of violence and the exploitation of the weak. What came across was the illusion of power as those who tried to impose themselves on others ended up getting abused themselves in a constant alternation of roles. Pessimism and frustration were evident, as well as an omnipresent threat, namely that of the inability of the weak to survive in this world. Violence seemed to set the tone and define people’s relationships. Accompanied by live baroque music and the wonderful voice of contra-tenor Steve Dugardin, which occasionally gave way to electronica, the performers expressed their frustration with spasmodic solitary movements or with skillfully violent altercations with their fellow dancers. The production condemned modern society but also seemed to mock it, as at one point one of the performers voiced his disapproval of all of society’s values and habits, which he naturally endorses himself, while later they all felt compelled to imitate and maximize each other’s actions. The audience was divided in its opinions, with some the following day still discussing the topics raised and others believing it had tried to tackle so many things simultaneously that it may have lost its focus. Founded in 1984 by Alain Platel, the collective has collaborated with numerous acclaimed choreographers, including Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Hans van den Broeck. The group’s trademark is the reflection of modern society, as it consists of artists of different backgrounds, united by their strong personalities. In 2005, it staged «Bache» in Kalamata, a production that met with great success. As it drew to a close, this year’s festival got everyone thinking about the world’s social and ecological problems but also left a sweet taste of harmony and the image of Priasso calmly suspended from the excavator.

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