Ballet Turned Goth at Biennial International Dance Festival

Alejandra Fernandez
Alejandra Fernandez

The International Dance Biennial took place in Cali, Colombia from October 28th to November 4th; brought the best contemporary dance companies at national and international level where movements, rhythms, scenography and concepts create a real work of art.

This event, led by the Cultural Institute Association for the Promotion of Arts (Proartes for its name in Spanish) in Cali, began in 2013 in association with ballet company Incolballet to promote all kinds of arts that use the body or “all manifestations that speaking cannot express”, dancing. Their unstoppable effort achieved to open spaces to diverse dancing genres to be showcased to the diverse audience in the pluricultural city of Cali.

According to the organizers “Cali has developed important alternatives around dance, such as the Cali’s Art Festival and Contemporary Dance Festival ‘Caliendanza’, turning them into essential scenarios in the city.

The best of national and Latin American contemporary dance performed in these scenarios between 2005 and 2010. Both festivals united to create the Biennial, envisioning it as a more inclusive and integrated event that gives a more modern vision on dancing by including other genres and the gathering artists and creators from different dancing disciplines.”

Since its inception, the International Dance Biennial has shown 2950 dancers from around the world who performed 149 activities. In the last three editions, 20 scenarios were used, some with free entrance and some paid. With these numbers, located on the webpage of the Biennial, demonstrate how the tropical goth city has events for every type of audience. With around 120.000 attendants, the festival proves that all art genre can take place in the same city.

For this fourth edition, there were national ballet companies such as Sankofa (Medellin), Colegio Cuerpo (Body School in English) from Cartagena, Jovenes Creadores del Chocó (Young creators from Choco). Also, this edition debuted two creator’s fellowships given by the Biennial in 2018: ‘Long trajectory Fellowship’ awarded to Danza Concierto (Medellin) and ‘New Creators Fellowship’ awarded to Periferia (Cartagena). Additionally, this edition presented international companies such as Belgrade’s Ballet of the National Theatre from Serbia, Kaori Ito from Japan and Switzerland, Marie Chouinard from Canada, Oliver Dubois from France, among other companies from Brazil.

All invite companies represented the best of contemporary art dancers’ expression developed a concept. Each of these companies gives dramatism and rhythm to configure magnificent performances and staging that complemented the stories told.

In this occasion, the Biennial invited the notorious Canadian ballet company Marie Chouinard who brought to movement the Hieronymus Bosch ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, a tryptic that represents Paradise in the middle of sin and damnation, next to Hell.

Currently, the painting belongs in the El Prado museum since 1939. According to historians, Henry III of Nassau commanded the canvas for his palace in Brussels. In 1953, Phillip II of Spain confiscated it in the Flemish war and took it to the monastery El Escorial.

The notorious painting dates from 1.500 BC exposes the three stages of the human spirit. Paradise on Earth represented in the right panel shows the restriction of pleasure, subdued to Christian fear under the original sin premise. That premise shows Jesus Christ with Adam and Eve about to consume the Prohibit Fruit in a tranquil and tame landscape.

The panel representing Sin in the centre of the painting there are men and women from all races in intercourse in pairings or orgies, as well shows homosexual relations, zoophilia, even plants play a part in these pleasure games and unmeasurable lust.

Giant fruits like Raspberries, cherries and strawberries serve as a bed for them portrayed desire in medieval times. Other figures, such as dragons, evil spirits, wait patiently. An owl, malice omen, observes how each sin develops without fear. Other objects like eggs, Christal capsules and exotic animals played a part in the most human of stages, Sin.

The tryptic left panel, Hell, is a surrealist work of art. Considered advanced for its era, this panel is not a typical landscape or a portrait, common in other paintings of its period. Hell is a representation of what a person may suffer if one does not abide by the law of God.

A sombre landscape, filled with flames, canonized floors, strange fluorescent lightings represent a demoniac atmosphere full of torture machines and amorphs characters with animal parts and horns that tortured sinful women and men.

This panel shown human sodomized by musical instruments, which gave it the title of “the musical hell.” Creatures eat people alive, fornicate with them, torturing them with pleasure act that took them there.

The dance company Marie Chouinard took these three stages. Starting with Paradise on Earth, ten semi-naked female and male dancers went to the stage covered in white dust, which left footprints on the floor.

In each corner, there was a round screen that represented a scene of the painting.

In the back-screen Paradise on Earth helped recreate an exotic landscape filled with lively characters. Each dancer’s movement started with a pose out of the picture and, from then on, the dance continued according to each character.

The next act portrayed Sin through orgies represented in slow group movements that gained speed to showcase reaching climax. The famous flower buckets that came out of some people anus, sodomization by fruits were embodied by hand gestures coming out between their legs, signs that allowed to understand how from that part of the body’s earthly passions get in and come out.

Exotic animals and boat trips through the Fountain of Life were represented by dancers jumping on others in the choreography. Still, the most impressive part was that it was performed inside of an egg-shaped inflatable.

Dancers took the object as part of the dance, they built the scenario, entering one by one to the egg, finishing the first act with a fantastical allegory.

While the next act began, the screen showed birds while the sound of chirp sounded in the theatre. Everything was calmed until the curtains lifted.

The stage had one weak light in the darkness that aimed to two-faced down metallic jars. One had a yellow industrial boot; the other had a tool.

The floor was white, due to the footprints from the previous acts and suddenly, a dancer walked in in all fours and jumped up the jars crying with despaired screams. She seemed suffering while hauling.

Immediately, attendants understood Hell was upon us. In between laments, dancers entered the stage completely covered while organizing the scenery.

Contemporary art permeated the choreography, allowing dancers to involve with the scenario. After everything was ensembled, dancers left and came back semi-naked.

By the end of the dancer’s lament, baroque music played the same music used in churches to initiate consecration cult. In the meantime, the female dancer got up, slid down a stairway in her way to eternal suffering in Hell. There were no projections on the screens, but from them, dancers came out to stage representing suffering.

In the middle of this apocalyptic, futuristic scene, dancers used musical instruments like trumpets and torture helmets, any encounter between them was of repulse. Contortions movements in bending bodies repeated over and over again in eternal suffering. Manic waves of laughter blended with the music while dancers dragged trumpets on the stage, creating a tortured and anxious environment.

At the end of this apocalyptic act, Hell leaves a dense sensation. The circle screens projected a blue and green eye that overlooked the entire place. The curtain lifted, and Paradise on Earth presents a Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve with the Fountain projected in the back screen.

One by one dancers started appearing posing as Adam or Eve from the painting representing a frozen moment that moves slowly as dancers changed positions. Adam became Jesus, Jesus became Eve, and the constant trinity of dancers changed roles. The dense atmosphere from Hell dissipated, balancing the three stages of the soul portrayed by the painter.

Dancer finished by mingling with the background of the scenery. The dancer’s bodies blended with the tree of life projections, building roots. They were no longer part of the stage; they became part of the painting.

‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ finally has movement. It went beyond the frame to show how torturous eternity can be to those sinful souls. It showed how worthy life in Paradise could be that every body’s movement is a consequence, not a coincidence. For every action of the body moves from one to the other, as a choreography waiting for the movement for the next dancer.

The Canadian company received a splendid farewell. Acclamation and stand-up applause resonated in the Teatro de Cali, showing that the language barrier can be broken by dance.

We wish to thank the Biennial organization for allowing us to cover this excellent performance from Bosch most famous artwork. This article does not describe adequately how mesmerizing the Marie Chouinard Ballet Company and its performative interpretation was.

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