5: ECHO

from: Cultureel Persbureau 13/12/2014

5: ECHO is a peculiar performance. All attention goes out to two famous pioneers of Dutch dance in the 60s and 70s: Ellen Edinoff and Bianca van Dillen. Still, Echo mostly shows how impossible (and maybe also undesirable) it is to want to revive faded glory. Dancer Kelly Hirina never becomes Ellen Edinoff. The ensemble of dancers that together with Beutler work on the rework of Vermiljoen, never radiate the artistic and feministic militancy that was so typical for female dance collectives in the 70s. Echo is essentially distant and hushed. The artistic, existential and emancipation drama of the first decennia of Dutch dance has made space for a relaxed gathering and posing of open questions. A real echo in the year of 2014.

Nicole Beutler has previously convincingly recycled existing dance repertoire into new performances. In Les Sylphides (Fokine) in 2007 and 2: Dialogue with Lucinda (Lucinda Childs) in 2010, she zoomed in on modern ballet and American minimalism. The performances stand out in their simplicity and consistency. In contrast to previous generations of choreographers Beutler does not need to be original in material or method of movement. Instead, in this performance she asks what importance heritage and tradition have to the modern artist. This search for artistic reflection and the reactivation of too quickly forgotten dance practices, critically reinventing instead of faithfully re-executing, has become a real trend in dance. It has led to very diverse projects, for instance, see Andrea Božić, Fabian Barba, Martin Nachbar or ICKamsterdam. But also in the collaborations that Beutler starts, like with Ulrique Quade (Antigone, Sophokles) or Tomoko Mukaiyama (Pianosonates 5 and 6, Galina Oestvolskaja, see discussion), existing repertoire is the starting point. This way dance is carefully broken up into all directions. Critical reflection and interdisciplinary collaborations move the focus from the purely aesthetic-technically formed body to the artistic or social context within which the performance takes place. Or even better: the attention goes out to what the individual bodies already carry with them, in terms of tradition and experience, from inside or outside of dance. 5:Echo is interesting because it specifically deals with the benchmarks of the Dutch dance tradition. Dutch dance, which has arduously appealed to its autonomy (Hans van Manen: “dance expresses dance and nothing else”) for decennia, has since its beginnings protested against reflection, critique and dramaturgy, is finally ready for it.

Kelly Hirina opens the performance almost carelessly with a sizzling monologue. Her repetitive text has been build up from somewhat cryptic, since taken out of context, citations and reviews and an interview with Koert Stuyd and Ellen Edinoff by Bibeb. It has something cheeky. The woman who was already a legend while alive, not only because of her amazing performance, but also because of her solitariness, whom you cannot find one decent painting of, is speaking the words others wrote in 5: ECHO. The words and sentences – indications of materials, thoughts about transience and presence; an unforgettable part of the performance – lead to a poetic explosion. As audience you fruitlessly try to connect the words to the surviving image of Edinoff. The fragmentation of the text stresses the impossibility of constructing a coherent image from miniscule bits. With every repetition of the words the mythical image crumbles. Hirini never tries to fully embody her famous predecessor. Her movements are motions copied from photographs. Like the words they remain loose sand. Postcards sent in the past, received in the now, but without any understanding of what moved the sender. Behind the microphone, radiant, naked, high-heeled and with an exotic Folies Bergères-like headpiece, she remains a mediator in a costume, a teller or someone else’s incomprehensible story.

The transience of dance is painfully consequent brought forward in the first part of 5: ECHO. Yet the question: ‘What was so important and essential about Ellen Edinoff’s work?’ remains unanswered. When Hirina dances some phrases over the beautifully cool and untouchably blue and grey lit stage, it is impossible to imagine that this has something to do with the specific sensibility, the special impact of artistic proposals, or a provoking corporeality in an era that was so important for the Dutch dance. Hirina ends the solo as an exotic bird, carried off the stage dressed in an oriental costume by her helpers. It makes one think of the end by Marthe Graham, whom Edinoff danced for before she came to The Netherlands with Koert Stuyf. By doing this, every memory of the groundbreaking work of the couple is pushed off the stage. There is no question of re-invention. The impossibility of reviving something is confirmed as an accomplished fact.

The second part of the performance resonates a different relationship towards the past. No moving images have remained of Edinoff and the archive of Stuyf and Edinoff is inaccessible or even lost. On the other hand, Bianca van Dillen has made all her material accessible and fulfilled an advisory role in the production. Also artistically Beutler seems to have a better connection with the work of Van Dillen. It is geometrical, rhythmical and has a symbolic undertone that never becomes explicit. The second part of 5: ECHO again opens loosely, but this time a choreographically built tension does arise. Walking is not just walking on a stage, crossing space has consequences, moving together causes a certain dynamic and requires a shaky equilibrium, because of which not only concentration, but also taking risks plays a decisive role. This way minimal changes become exciting events.

The use of video-images of the original work is also important in the second part of 5: ECHO. When the performance has been underway for a while, old recordings appear on the rear wall, once filmed from above by a technician. The choreography on film precedes what the dancers do on stage. At the same time there is no literal re-enactment. Because of this triple shift – then and now, here and there in the choreography, and copying this and not that – new perspectives on the old and new work are opened up in a playful way. The drama of the reconstruction, of finding the correct way of execution has been conquered. The old work was what it was, the new work approaches the once imagined material in its own way. Next to breaking the taboo of appropriating pre-existing work in a new way (in theatre it is very common that the director or theatre company decides how to execute the repertoire), the second part of 5: ECHO is also interesting because of a total shift in aesthetics. Although Beutler likes to copy the structures and forms, she gives a lighter tone to the ensemble. Not only in the colourful costumes, but mostly in the tone of the mutual relations, there is no trace left of the explicit control and total surrender that often characterized the dance work of Van Dillen’s generation.

In many perspectives 5: ECHO does the same as 2: DIALOGUE WITH LUCINDA and Les Sylphides: a relaxed stance on an illustrious and obligatory past. By not giving into the pressure, but opening it up through clear questions about form and structure, Beutler can add her own ideas and meanings. Often this means that she will make a joke out of the obligations, but also that she stages a certain restoration of honour for those aspects that speak to her. In 5: ECHO this is clear in the relaxed intensity of the ensemble.

In the near future Beutler might want to take the risk to burn her fingers on a more speculative interpretation of Edinoff’s oeuvre. Especially in the work of Dutch choreographers inspired by her, like Truus Bronkhorst and Bianca van Dillen, there seems to be a lot of potential material to critically look at the Dutch ‘Graham-line’. The circles of time through which things return, ever again and always different, the given that artistic material embeds itself all over, be it in bodies, a choreography or, god forbid, an artistic canon, is a beautiful given, which can be speculated upon, especially in the theatre.

© Fransien van der Putt