Laurence Louppe

These days, a highly mobile generation of modern dancers travels across Europe, from one hub of activity to another: a lively community of young artists, driven by the innovating values of contemporary art, mindful of proceeding with great authenticity in the renewal of their working methods. This generation is also mindful of solidarity and involvement in their reflection on the role and place of artists in the context of our society. Olga de Soto is considered to be among the most prominent personalities in this movement, as well by her peers as by those who are interested in how the vanguard of contemporary dance evolves. Born in Valencia, she studied at the prestigious CNDC in Angers (France), and now lives and works in Brussels, while continuing educational and creative activities in her native country. Her highly demanding artistry made her a choreographer who has become emblematic for the current developments in modern dance.

Olga de Soto's work is multi-faceted: it deploys from its initial concepts that are each time renewed, yet always remaining concentrated on that single generating factor which is contemporary music. The music does not only serve as a decorative accompaniment or an emotive receptor of the audience, as is the case too often: it is mostly a place of confrontation, the stage set for experimentation. The accomplishments of the composers of the century, not only concerned with musical combinatorials, but also touching timbres, acoustic sources and their place in time and space, have become a wide work terrain for problematicals and materials. Every artist, regardless of how he puts his ideas into practice, can delve in contemporary music to find creative impulses of astounding richness, on condition that he has the necessary tools to identify them. This is Olga de Soto's case; highly cultured and endowed with a solid musical training, she is one of those young contemporary dancers who are able to re-invent the reason for a work. For her, the writing of choreographies does not envisage a spectacular product, but an oeuvre of dialogue and questioning. In her work, Olga de Soto develops dialogues with possibilities of wide-ranging syntaxis and sensoriality. The most important dialogue remains, however, the one taking place between the dancers' bodies in sound and gesture, breaking limits and collapsing definitions and frameworks.

In Strumentale (1997), for example, which is based on a daring project by Stefano Scodanibbio, the two dancers gasp as if in response to the double bass, of which only the loose strings are being played. The music seems to appear from deep inside the dancers' diaphragms, driving and restraining their movements in polyphony of stifled rhythms: sonorous and gestural bodies, incarnating themselves in densities and presences. The on-stage musician polarises the space around his fixed position, with the dance itself cut off as if occurring on the edge of a dismantled space where a suspended, slowly revolving boom crossing the visual field, only adds to the destabilisation of relations.

Until recently, Olga de Soto dance was mostly that of a woman, alone on stage, or with her partner, Pascale Gigon: two outstanding performers, rigorous in their art in an equally rigorous choreographic project, which the choreographer never mars by insipid accessories. In her constructions, her movement and use of costumes, Olga de Soto dismisses all adornment. This sober approach gives her work exceptional strength and credibility: should a woman, nowadays, not vehemently refuse the futile ornamentation which, for so long, parasitized her image and disfigured her feminity with pseudo-gracious airs?

Olga de Soto’s quality of gesture and body originate in an inner fire much deeper than the surface suggests. She possesses an intense sensuality that needs no accessories to be perceived, and, most of all, touch the body of the spectator. From where emanates this sensorial current that passes into movement, without resorting to the shadows of sentimentality or complacency? It comes mostly from the depth of her physical work, from the ardent drive that engenders itself in the totality of the body and travels towards its carving in space and towards the limits of the body, the limits of our gaze. And which can play upon the complete decreasing of intensity as well as on their intensifications. In Seuls bruits des corps entre eux (1997, written on a sublime musical suite of quartets by Salvatore Sciarrino), diffuse eroticism is suggested by the mystery of gestures and the curving of bodies, dressed in tight silk costumes that appear to be just underwear. Does the title of the piece itself evoke the original music, a music of a primitive scene, causing spasms to subtly take possession of the visual and sonorous propositions? Olga de Soto sees this piece as a self-portrait:  does she mean a portrait of the female body trapped in the eerie intervals between the carnal stimuli in prejudiced intimacy, or of the body absorbed in the reading of its own brilliantly shimmering reflection?

Olga de Soto’s artistic lucidity and experience allow her to alter not only her creative process from one piece to the next, but also to alter the states of the body that correspond to the variations in her language. As such, in Hontanar (Spanish for 'group of springs', 1996), a discontinued movement with no special accentuations is declined using a physical language of which the body would be the sole energy source. So, floors and walls are used in astounding percussion-like horizontal kicking and bucking, as if they were the surface of the world.

On the contrary, in Patios (1992), a continuous and fluctuating movement begins on its impulses and guides the body towards a near-disequilibrium. Here, the writing may be interpreted as an art of incompletion, at times withholding the body beside a gap: a writing in which the hiatuses lay bare the handling of the intervals as they do with the cracks in the music score. Or, in stark contrast, the body is floated through a cascade of fractureless events, and resurges in the resounding of action and reaction. These mutations make the artist's body a sensitive reading instrument, a receptive organ giving space to fresh interpretations by the spectator-listener.

These propositions – and this is one of the most original aspects of Olga de Soto's work – do not, in any way, represent completed works; yet often they join in composite projects, such as Paumes or A destiempo, both works of varying dimensions in the making. Here, we deal with a thoughtful production approach, which, by the evolving methods underpinning the act of creation, does not terminate in a motionless object. Even if movement has, in Olga de Soto's case, that specific force which strengthens the performance by two dancers - in unison or in slight discrepancy – the choreography speaks out for all sorts of expression.

Besides musical collaborations, the choreographer equally develops her ties with the modern visual arts, with young plastic artists and set designers who share her radicalness. Particularly, the contribution for stage lighting by Gaëtan van den Berg needs mentioning, despite Olga de Soto's paradoxical relation with light, often marked by the use of shadows. As with the French choreographer, Emmanuelle Huynh, the female body liberates itself from the spectacular tradition that immobilised it by over-exposure, a helpless object facing visual assault. In Patios, a spot of light gradually grows larger until it captures the body that previously moves beyond its range. On other occasions, the body, a simple reflection torn from the nocturnal, can only show itself in fragments, furtive flashes of light exposing it momentarily. The body is only partially seen in the openings from darkness, on the mobile frontier of its own disappearance.

Of the short pieces that compose Olga de Soto's new project, anarborescences, autre can be danced differently at each performance, either by two men or two women, or, yet again, by a woman and a man. In the first case, one might wonder if the two men replace the two women. Yet, mostly, they deal with an intermediate terrain where the question of gender undergoes a metamorphosis or is toned down. Olga de Soto speaks of a 'convergence' of languages and their multiple densities: the music of Assonance IV, by Michael Jarrell, gives us by its mere title an indication of these relations where the alloy could address us about, perhaps, sexual hybridisation. Yet, it also tells us of the convergence of the bodies, in a new, reticulate relationship: the choreographer quotes, through another work by Jarrell, the concept of 'rhizome' (a botanical term for 'rootstock'), developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

Contrasting to a homogenous tissue of mixed consistencies, a rhizome may be described as a group of continuous or discontinuous layers: 'Different from trees and their roots, the rhizome connects any point with any other point, each of these not necessarily of the same nature.' Whether in the human or artistic factors of her compositions, Olga de Soto puts those miscellaneous factors at play. The distinction of the sexes represents a wide array of artistic possibilities to undertake the near-incessant trips across its divide.

Laurence Louppe, Olga de Soto: des passages à la limite, in the book Masculin/Féminin : sur quel pied danser ?, published in the frame of the fourth Biennale Internationale de Charleroi/Danses, 1999

Translation: Geert Kliphuis