Last weekend [November 26 & 27 1999], the Brussels-based Spanish choreographer Olga de Soto premiered her latest work at the Théâtre des Tanneurs. Although the show is conceived as a three-act suite, the audience only got to see a partial rendering, the opening duet not being featured for artistic reasons. Nonetheless, an impressive quartet remained, lasting over an hour, followed by a short solo. De Soto, not yet thirty years old, has already an extensive record. She danced with Michèle Anne De Mey, Claudio Bernardo and Pierre Droulers and choreographed around fifteen pieces. For the time being, she has more succes in Wallonia than in Flanders.
Two elements are recurrent in de Soto's work: contemporary music and philosophical reflections, the latter intending to make room for corporeal expression. Both sources provide a sort of working platform, a laboratory in action, and are presented as such to the spectator. In that sense, de Soto belongs to the latest generation of artists for whom the finished product is no longer a central issue; instead the creative processes are. The title of the quartet is, in that sense, significant: […des rhizomes]… fuite peau… (titre évolutif à chaque représentation).
In de Soto's work, the concept of 'rhizome' connects the music of Michael Jarrell and the thought of the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. 'Rhizome' is the botanical term for an underground root system, spreading in an unpredictable manner. Analogically, for Deleuze, this concept stands for heterogenity and connection, for plurality and cartography. In a rhizome any point can be connected to others without limitations. Unlike a tree, a rhizome has no fixed positions or orientations. A rhizome begins and ends nowhere; it grows between things and embraces them. In this fashion, the quartet […des rhizomes] … fuite peau… unfolds itself: four dancers set out searching for choreographically managing the space-time. They move 'rhizome-wise' between fixed positions and points of recognition; this approach provides for no efficient management, but yields magnificent dancing and moments in space-time itself.
The piece starts on the music of Près, a work for cello and electronics by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, who has become quite prominent in modern music over the last ten years. In sparse light the four outstanding dancers – Olga de Soto joined by Stefan Dreher, Pascale Grignon and Stéphane Hisler – try to stay on their feet on a surface of barely the size of a pavement tile. As if in a knot, they wrestle themselves over and through each other, until they fall apart and individually aim at inhabiting the stage. The dance is distracted and disparate, with no contact between the dancers; the movements resist any linearity – just like the music is void of any direction. A thick veil of movements is being woven, threadbare-fine, as if progressing in a root system that diverges horizontally, in all slowness, almost invisibly, as if the dance literally moves underground.
The movements are beautiful, yet they do not aim at form, deliberately resist unity, and even turn away from the stage. In the margin, beyond the reach of light, every movement stands on its own, wallowing in the space-time of the here and now. And yet connections are created, although it is not clear where and how. The choreography’s nomadic writing raises the question whether all this is being improvised. Yet the opposite seems to be true when a continuous tension arc appears and at times a musical accent is being picked up on. So, carefully choreographed after all?
Perhaps this process starts on stage yet the movements find completion in their perception, that is in the spectator’s mind. The unbounded rhizome now embraces the spectator, allowing him to participate in the performance. In this way, figures emerge: when the spectator thinks that a certain fragment is being repeated, that a short contact movement between two dancers has a specific meaning, that a certain rhythm seems more prominent. In the middle of the time-space, some figures come into existence, figures the spectator did not dare to suspect. Whether these figures are shared by the choreographer and the dancers themselves, remains unclear. And yet that explains the tension of the piece, although, admittedly, the fascinating movements are an important factor. It is indeed the nomadic act of writing that connects the choreography, the dancing and the watching, three moments which traditionally do not align to a single gesture. When the spectator becomes a choreographer himself, he can no longer distantiate himself from the work, nor is he facing a finished product.
After about an hour, in which the spectator is so to speak put at work himself, de Soto dances Par une main ou par le vent mais l’air est immobile, a short solo of around ten minutes. Based on Salvatore Sciarrino’s flute piece, Canzona di ringrazimento, this jewel is more an intuitive reading than an abstract conceptual unity which is endlessly fanning out. It is nothing more than a dancing breeze that blows past, airily and lovely to watch. Unfortunately, it does not quite concur with how the previous part is conceived; the solo part is no more than a rather insignificant appendix. But is that not what we may expect from a rhizome: that it does not stop where we would like it? Possibly, this miniature, performed by a trembling and fluttering body, is a sort of mushroom of which we are not yet allowed to see the roots. Is this solo part a short look ahead at future work? Hopefully, Olga de Soto's fascinating work will soon find its way to the Flemish stages.
Jeroen Peeters, Een nomadische schriftuur, Financieel-Economische Tijd (BE), December 4, 1999
Translation: Geert Kliphuis