By Martha Sanchez (*) PRENSA LATINA, February 20, 2015
If anyone doubts that the arts can mesh fluidly, please run to see Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (DCC). The Scottish choreographer Billy Cowie has found a formula so good, so intense as to confuse the senses. Poetry, painting, poetry, sculpture, poetry, dance, poetry, poetry! Tangos Cubanos has a little of tango and a little of Cuba, but is aimed more at the universal and falls entirely on the sublime. Given this choreography and that company, the viewer has no other choice but to enjoy the beauty of a Rodin influenced kiss and succumb to hypnosis.
Cowie’s own music highlights the poetry of gesture, the text traces patterns, suggests, invokes. From the aesthetic point of view, most of the sections play with cubism and surrealism embracing Apollinaire's vision, an alliance between painting and dance, between the visual arts and the mimetic. This choreography not only elevates the senses but leads the viewer in an ideal journey through a museum of modern art.
Billy Cowie is in the world vanguard where he is known as a pioneer in combining real dancers and others projected in 3D - but working with digital technologies in Cuba is not plain sailing. The technical conditions of the theatres of the island just let us fantasize with traditional lights - not coincidentally for the commissioning of Cuban Tangos the Scottish choreographer was sponsored by the British Council and the Casa del Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano. The Mella Theater of Havana lent their unique stage for this plastic adventure in which artists dance between tables or within the paintings, as if tattooed, with studied lyricism and without excess.
The Argentine Enrique Santos Discepolo, considered one of the greatest poets of tango, defined the genre as a sad thought that is danced. Perhaps this was the single idea captured by the choreographer and composer who also refused to portray easy stereotypes of Cuba. Cowie evaded the cliches that make many Cubans feel outside our own culture and portrayed us as ordinary humans, yes tropical, but citizens of the world.
The alliance between music, dance, literature, costumes, props, lighting, choreography, dancers, flowed like an orchestra. On another work of Cowie a European critic said in 2011: "Everything in the piece is perfect." It would be fair to add that this work achieved that miracle once again.
For Total Dance
Pedro Ángel • La Habana, Cuba • 21 Feb 2015
It takes ten events, short, simple, like photos, seemingly inauspicious to provide an epic axis to the great work before us ... They are memories, evocations of Havana referenced in a form so that arguably almost nothing happens, no more so than in life. In Tangos Cubanos Billy Cowie is brought to us as a poet of deep suggestion, his work moves through a world of subtleties, enjoy the kiss intensified by tied hands, total delight; the enjoyment of sensual legs in a dance that does not allow the movement of bodies, or the nakedness of an erotic foot; an irreverent finger in response to the request for a kiss; the lightness of living; the hint of how life goes on, so silent, the overflowing imagination and tangency with shreds of reality as digested and presented in the vision of the other that is the choreographer’s.
The whole is a ritual of sobriety, it is the delicacy, the economy of means, the symbol open with multiple significant edges, it is to make a voyage to the profundity of the interpretation and then receive it reworked in each passage, at all moments. How does Billy Cowie create such a tenuous atmosphere in a sea of twenty thrilling dancers naturally adjusting their sonorities to that, so lyrical and slightly ringing?
It is the feat of a total master, with a well-defined individual voice in a moving spectacle. But if there is the clear expertise of the choreographer, one can not stop also praising the visual design of Silke Mansholt, costumes, Holly Murray and lights, Fernando Alonso; all in full harmony with the work.
Tangos Cubanos; the symmetrical kiss of Billy Cowie Andrés D. Abreu
La Jiribilla, 21 Feb 2015
They are kissing each other, deeply and symmetrically, libidinously undulating, moving, dancing even, dancing to the bars of a tango music. Billy Cowie, musician, poet and choreographer, had to come to sublimate this contextual kiss, this everyday street life of XXI century Cuba in his choreography Tangos premiered at the Teatro Mella with the company Danza Contemporanea de Cuba; poetizing with precise phrase (spoken or danced) these ways to seduce another, even a stranger, and recreate graciously drinking a clear beer, without opportunistic Cosumbrismos or false modesty. Cowie rediscovered a precise dynamic model in which the spectacular dancing body which does not overflow and is faithful to certain informal freedoms and turned that to the established uniformity in the current Cuban identity struggles, without ever leaving the more hispid half of the island.
Sequence by sequence between a softly resounding, almost erotic offstage text with a Castilian musical pronunciation and projected in English on the black background of the stage, Cowie choreographed a series of geometric group combinations where exact repetition became the algorithm provoking the rigor. Less programmatic especially in the duets, the British artist was referring to a plausible Havana, hard and nostalgic, romantic and vulgar life experiences, dotted as printed graphic on the costumes and fully reinforced in the expressionist drawings projected on the entire width of the stage. The dance told tense and dramatic stories, more modern than contemporary as a tango, concrete, somewhat contained with even repressed moments, sensual, worldly talking about hunger, and even tenderly too, the fruit of English romanticism obviously upset by these love stories in Havana today that are more than ever marked by no happy ending.
Tangos Cubanos is a highly respectable intercultural creation, evidence of a chivalrous sensitivity with give and take to the other. A piece to remember the good synthesized making and to remind us of that which we carry beyond any social border. This is the third Tango of Billy (before he choreographed Tango de Soledad as a 3D installation and Tango Brazileiro as a dance video) and on the night of its premiere at the Teatro Mella I do not remember anything else after she turned her multiple backs without looking back at the five who were ready to fly.
Tangos Cubanos is a beautiful visual and sound poem about a vanished love that persists in the sweet and melancholic memory with the sadness of a past happiness. Narrated orally with intensity, it is established in the mental space of the evoked, but without sentimentality, because the sad stories of love are those that have already ended. They do not sadden as they travel as present. They only turn out that way when they become past.
The piece by the British choreographer Billy Cowie has been mounted with the Compañía Danza Contemporánea de Cuba as part of the close working relationship of that institution with the British Council. This is a structured work by means of a harmonic system of all its elements, organized in several subsystems: the dancing one, the one of the plastic visuality (scenography, costumes), the sonorous one and the literary one.
At the same time there are three interacting discourse levels: the dance, the oral story and the graphic story. They are the three semantic layers intertwined in the same sad story: the one danced by the performers, the one told in words and the one referred to in the scenographic design. The way of relating it is of literary origin, recognizable in the fragmentation of the scenes, separated as pictures in succession. They begin with the theater in the dark listening to the narrative, which is responsible for giving the situational and temporal context of the action. When the voice stops, the stage lights up in each painting, the dancers are seen and the background reproduces the selected image to accompany them.
It has been a constant concern of Cowie in his career as a choreographer, composer and video maker, to perceive a marked separation between the dancers and the audience. He has tried to surpass it on a subjective level, intensifying the power of the gaze towards the spectacle in order to stimulate in the observer a sensory attraction (visual and auditory), capable of awakening from its seats the desire to penetrate the events, to follow the represented drama, of getting involved, of feeling immersed in the three-dimensional space where these events take place.
The visual subsystem of the stage design is by the experienced German designer Silke Mansholt, who understands art as an interdisciplinary process, evident in its varied formation and in its way of realization. Mansholt has directed, written, made performances, designed and choreographed for videos in England, where she has been living for 20 years. She has also accompanied Cowie in his work since 2010. Since then the two form a team of very integrated creators. The ensemble performances are distinguished by a unified dance and set design. This shared vocation has led them to establish knotted structures among the various components of creation, for which they are assisted by virtual plastic techniques and procedures that have made both of them famous in Europe.
In the virtual scenography of Cuban Tangos, Mansholt has appropriated a loose and modern way of drawing, influenced her treatment of silhouettes in ways of cultured art inspired by street graffiti. It assumes the synthetic figuration - apparently neglected - executed in a fast and emotional way, to suggest the different dramatic moments. This plastic expression of the decor is conditioned by being street and populous places where lovers meet, and also, never to pretend to become an exceptional story, susceptible to being traversed in their lives by many people.
The drawings projected in video appear on a wide screen as a backdrop. The figures with a thin line or strongly expressionist bear the evident imprint of graffiti, of which it incorporates its peculiar grey and dark tones and the common atmospheres. Sometimes it applies some touches of colour that enliven the figures.
Those beautiful spellings of the background do not show any halo of romanticism and softness in the images, they have a certain hurtful touch because what is told is still cutting. In spite of that, or perhaps for that very reason, it is of an impressive beauty. With a high power of attraction, they do not frame the situations presented in the simple illustration of events: they speak narratively by themselves and have a life of their own. The discourses of dance and stage design, however, do not follow separate paths, but interlock with each other. They have, however, a sharp visual independence, an autonomy in the authenticity of their respective forms of expression, stimulating in their complementation the expansion of the senses they generate.
The lines of the drawings projected on the background of the stage spatially spill through their video projection and bathe the dancers as they move in their executions, creating the effect of a different body density, the illusion of a three-dimensional environment. It is the figurative representation of being the dancers immersed within that network of lines, symbol of being the characters emotionally attached to those events of the past, denied to let them disappear, to get away from the memories of a lived happiness.
The remarkable power of seduction exercised as a whole in the viewer promotes a feeling of abandonment, of letting oneself get carried away emotionally. That attraction also makes us feel trapped; without being able or willing to leave, as often happens in dreams where there is no possibility of escape. This logic of dreams is present in the conception of this dance piece. It is not just the operation of the memory. It really moves on a border, bordering between the two.
The subsystem of costume design is by Holly Murray, who reproduces the graffiti style of the set. His figurations applied to the dresses and shirts contribute to a greater visual integration, foreseeing, in addition, to achieve the effect that the drawings of the clothes can be animated with the evolutions of the dancers, as if they were in charge of bringing the characters to life plotted in each one, in representative allusion of crowds. Murray thus seals the systemic unification between the different discursive levels in the conception of the setting, makes them march in a unanimous way, each fulfilling its role in correlation with the others.
The narrative subsystem associated with the dramatic structure is recited by the Spanish video maker and performer Clara García Fraile. The introduction of the spoken word confers in the cadenced and melodic sonority a preamble of enhancement to the poetic dimension of the images that will come next. Her artistic skill in moulding the sonorities of the words insufflates an air of whisper to the lamentations of the soul, in full correspondence with the musical score, to establish communication with the audience, shaking them, inducing them to interact emotionally with the fictional.
The sound subsystem is notable for the musical beauty of the ripped and plaintive sound of the violin, an instrument always associated with the sad, the melancholic, the sweetly painful moans of the soul. It is interpreted with dexterity by a young Japanese violinist, international laureate, Tadsuke Ijima. As will be appreciated, this is an interdisciplinary teamwork of international origin.
Of the dance subsystem, the sensuality in Cowie - a constant used in other works of his - represents a demand for this story. His way of doing this is unusual. The movements are soft, lethargic, almost imperceptible. They create a rarefied atmosphere that denotes a feature of elegance and stylistic refinement, seeking to approach the slowed rhythm of dreams. The movements are markedly minimal to be reduced to small movements, almost minimalist, of the arms and hands. The rest of the body, including the legs, keep a smaller role to serve rather support and balance, without acquiring the high relief that usually these parties have had in numerous contemporary choreographies. In this sense, the corporal delivery of the protagonist lovers in the sensory enjoyment of a kiss, without the intervention of another part of the body, is one of the most outstanding passages.
The choreography conceptually enjoys contrast and reconciles two separate sides, two opposing forces, attracting themselves willingly: the feminine and the masculine. The feminine is so powerfully seductive that it can even dominate the body and the will of men, managed as a magical effect by the action at a distance from their hands, visible in one of the passages of the work. Reciprocally, the masculine snatches and seduces the feminine, provoking her with tenuous gestures, reciprocated in bodily dialogue between the two rows separated by gender. It is a mutual struggle of alternating strengths and challenges, acting as flows in circulation that go from one place to another.
In particular, one of the most ravishing scenes of beauty is the isolated couple of lovers where she exercises a subtle, provocative influence over him with the subtle handling of her legs. It is a tempting game, a tasty battle in the interaction of anxiously desiring bodies. Although here it resorts to a leading couple, its multiplication into several - staged in other moments - expands the story, going beyond the singularity to become allusive to a possible and frequent way of happening, highlighting many other love encounters and their definite disagreements. A dramatic segment the story carefully beyond the literary. It is not only the success of the events reflected. It is to show through them the dripping of the conscience that emerges in a fragmentary way the most persistent passages, that resist to disappear, they are activated and unfold before the observer, and they are reproduced later in the emotional and sensory impression of the assistants. Art is the poetic way to recover them and deliver them to others. Or as Cowie says in the script for Tangos Cubanos: “This city, this bus stop, this kiss for the first time, this emptiness. It should have gone slowly. A kiss enough to reach the necessary escape and deliver it to art “.