revew: Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek – Wellness
Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek/
CAMPO & Transform/
Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance/
kim kardashian eyes tutorial//
maybe I’m seeing Kardashians where they’re not intended but the female (/matriarchal) driver of the onstage dancers in Holzinger & Riebeek’s Wellness has an air of Kim about her. Not solely in aesthetic but in the cultural authority she wields; the passive, laissez-faire instruction she gives and the totem/goddess she becomes as the ensemble prostrate at her feet. Wellness makes me ask the question, what are the distinctions between our categories of guru/mentor/cultist? Social context, probably, levels of sanctioning. If enough of us follow the guidance of an authoritarian figure (/concept), then it’s in our best interest to follow suit, we build our social rules around the precondition of compliance and the consensus that our behaviour is perfectly reasonable and natural, that we have done this since the beginning of time.
undoing sex against sexual optimism//
in Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism, C.E. builds their argument in multiple stages and for the purposes of this revew I’m jumping to the middle. I don’t refer to its argument in whole but specifically to the thought that ‘A common assertion within popular discourse is that sex is natural, that it will always be here […] we are animals doing what animals do and have always done, and society merely perverts and represses these drives.’ To paraphrase a longer argument with some Foucault in it: ‘sex’ is social (and for that matter, so is the idea that ‘we are all animals’). The effect of the community of four dancers onstage and the constant presence of the fifth, Kardashianesque company member invests everything with a sense that the movement in the piece is a social exchange.
i don’t want to give the impression the piece is about sex, though. There’s certainly a lot of physical intimacy and nudity between the performers but it’s rarely sexual (not not totally divorced from sex). The main driving force is the seeking for approval, and a striving for a sort of peak-self. Y’know, the whole idea that ‘Wellness’ is attainable – that we can mould ourselves into something that fits perfectly into the cracks that the world allows for us, and that this is the greatest way to live. The dancers are at a kind of mercy to what the stage allows them to do. At one point, the ‘Kardashian’/stylemaker is suspended above the dancers, and oil spills from her breasts, covering them and the stage. This destroys the dancers’ previous relationship to the stage – no longer possible are balletic leaps and running across the space; the movement shifts to the floor and the dancers’ naked, oiled bodies writhe and spasm across each other like wet pieces of clay or cornstarch on a speaker cone.
corn starch speaker cone//
as the lighting upon their pale bodies changes, the dancers appear as if made of stone, of meat, of oil itself. I’m reminded of Rachel Maclean’s exhibition, Wot u :-) about?, which seemed to me to repeat the view I am sick of, that internet culture is divorced from reality, that it is vapid. I see in Wellness an acknowledgement that the culture of self-betterment, driven by YouTube and Instagram, is culture, not some sort of extraterrestrial blip. The dictates of the overbearing, gracious mentor effect bodies, effect a physical stage. She herself is unaffected by the oil, changes into trainers and runs on a treadmill as if mocking the others’ inability to inhabit a definable form. Then there’s some sand, another shift, a montage to the theme from Skyfall and the dancers are a parody of those Bond opening montages, by now an in dependent form in themselves. Their oil-and-sand-covered bodies click into a different kind of sense, no longer things in themselves but a result of absurd mounds of culture behind them.
sodom berlin theater//
the central image I seem to take away is that image of writhing oiled bodies. Not mere bodies but here through the strange ritual that created them in front of us. In the opening, Florentina Holzinger reads from a review and cries “it’s about so much more than just bodies!” I can’t even imagine what ‘just’ a body might do. Even a corpse has weight. Bodies are placed, are dragged, spun, used. Bodies can be used for so many things. Florentina lifts weights, lays an egg. Vincent Riebeek and another male dancer trade the still- whole yolk between their mouths. Though the language of the show makes them work for their leader, they do this also for us. We are more the end-user of these bodies than the performer playing the role of their leader. We are consuming their process of recreation, their act of striving for wellness is not internal, we are not voyeurs but the anticipated eye.
the final act of Wellness becomes a contest for appreciation. A sort of cross between a Britain’s Got Talent-style hunt and RuPaul’s Drag Race. The always leader becomes hectoring MC, her power absolute no matter which form she inhabits as the dancers vie for her approval. Her approval is won, briefly savoured, and the routine begins again, the piece takes itself back to the start. We are still at the endpoint and at the deep centre of all the culture, all the betterment that has ever been and ever will be. No one higher, no one better no one more or less anything than they were at the show’s opening. It’s a purgatory, though one perhaps the inhabitants are happy to be part of.