Play it - reviews

17 Excellent dances about something
(17 Świetnych tańców o czymś)
Przemysław Gulda, Gazeta Wyborcza -Trójmiasto nr 110, 13-05-2013

The protagonists end up in a crushing defeat here; but for the makers, it's a spectacular victory; another one in a successful artistic biography of this theatre. The recent performance by the Dada von Bzdülöw dwells on a simple idea: taking a look at the present from a perspective of some people living in the future, people trying to answer the question what it was, that 'something' that made the past world what it really was, what gave it meaning, dimension and colour. Although the idea is not so new, and has yet been tried in many cultures around the world on numerous occasions and in various ways, the three artists from Gdańsk group - the performance created together by Anna Steller, Katarzyna Chmielewska and Leszek Bzdyl, succeed at arriving with it at certain conclusions, perhaps not most revealing, but delivered in a genuine and touching fashion. One of the most important conclusion being that this kind of cultural, civilization-wise, ethnographic archaeology cannot bring about any new meanings, neither can it set the stage for any revealing interpretations of the findings, nor for any concise syntheses, but can rather toss away more remnants, scraps, and shapeless shreds to the junkyard of our civilization. The junkyard - especially by the Dada dancers - that's really impressive, yet having no answer to the question of that mythical 'something'; or perhaps having rather an infinite number of possible answers. In that junkyard full of remnants of civilization, unbearably though, nothing can no longer mean anything or anything can helplessly mean everything.
The culture of shreds and scraps
Where to find answers? The artists start from the culture, and during the first twenty minutes, set out to present in a witty, eloquent and spectacular way our contemporary culture in a colourful kaleidoscope creating bizarre patterns, made of some remnants of those big things, those ordinary things, and those quite shallow things too. So on the one hand - there're those two intriguing 'bar-love' scenes, knitted together from some worn-out clichés seen in countless films since 'Casablanca' to 'Superbad'. Intriguing, first of all, as a testimony of how for over half a century the expression of woman's sexuality has evolved: from an ethereal girl feeling ashamed (Anna Steller), who only dares to signal her needs in a shy way by acting out a symbolic sexual intercourse with a cigarette, to a daring, almost nearing brazen, promiscuous and self-confident woman who can take from man whatever she needs (Katarzyna Chmielewska).
On the other hand - a childish delight with karate films so well performed by Leszek Bzdyl, using some very subtle means, entwines here with a feeling of a boy being lost in the meanders of sexuality that is just being discovered by him with both fascination and fear. Then there're the songs, taken out of their own context, with no more subcultural or milieu meaning, somehow disintegrated - even literally - by Maciej Salamon, who made mixed video projections based on real video clips. Once iconic, today no longer carrying any meaning, and just comprising forgotten classics: a hippie one by Jefferson Airplane band, and New Wave post-punk by Tuxedomoon. Finally - there're exceptional figures, made by dancers' bodies in one of those few scenes when they're all together on stage. Is it gymnasts' section from the Polish film classic 'Rejs' [Cruise]? Or is it a monument of a farmer and Kolkhoz - or rather contrary - some leading films made by Russian Mosfilm studio? Could they be some lovers standing together on the bow of 'Titanic'? Another meanings, citations, references of those quotations, hints, or rather parodies can be further multiplied - whatsoever still it has no meaning, and leads us nowhere.
There's nothing here whatsoever
If this 'something' is not in culture, then perhaps in nature - the artists ask in the next part. However, the emotions, even the strongest ones, enacted by them, become only bleak, fuzzy traces, repeated patterns, more and more trampled paths. In one of the coolest and most precisely composed scenes of the performance, Katarzyna Chmielewska's envy is just some repeated, even if volcanic, paroxysm which, with its naturalistic straightforwardness, brings about rather pity than fear. Yet, we cannot know if Anna Steller's innocence, hidden somewhere under her successive underskirts, being removed one after another with each next fit of Chmielewska's envy, is candid innocence or only pretended one. The more that, a moment later, it turns into truly animalistic lust, against which Chmielewska's vehemence of emotions suddenly stands for sophisticated, aesthetized fragility. Emotions too, then, turn out to be an empty trace of something that perhaps used to carry some meaning, some custom-made rituals, except that nothing real goes with them now. Perhaps some values then, some echoes of the truth are preserved in objects, some ordinary everyday signs. Signs which, according to this third part's viewpoint, are meaningful only when written and read together. And so what, if meaning itself can change with just a single gesture: like a lamp which in place of a protective umbrella becomes a cage, or a teapot which with warm handle grip turns into slavery. Unfortunately, it's no way possible too, to find meaning in reaching out for some goal, in ceaseless marching forward, in striving towards progress - as in brilliant solo by Bzdyl, almost at the end of the piece, the last straw that the drowning protagonists will clutch at across the ocean of signs that long lost their meaning. Clearly, from their perspective, you can see that life's no more but walking in a standstill, executing completely non-existent tasks, and merely repeating empty gestures. So even death has yet lost its ultimate meaning if it can be replayed just like that. The protagonists' mission turns out a disaster, however, thanks to the actors' performance, what a spectacular one. After twenty years of a successful career, the Dada von Bzdülöw dancers don't need to prove anything. And it's masterfully shown in the piece: there's no muscle flexing here, no showing off, no complaints or showing something at all costs. Instead. Fully mature moderation at using different means of expression, so numerous, and yet, not even for a moment overshadowing any of the senses, with perfect sensing of tone, and truly unforced class. Excellent show.
[translation: Michał Jankowski