Cindy Van Acker – a choreographer who is among the most interesting international figures in this field – for years has been involved in radical research on movement, with which she associates an investigation into the mise-en-scene as a device, but in an auditory key, accompanied by leading figures of the contemporary electronic field, such as Mika Vainio from Pan Sonic: she has been collaborating with him since 2007, when they worked on Kernel.
A Swiss resident, Cindy Van Acker founded the Greffe Company in 1999, which she is currently managing. She studied dance in Antwerp with Jo Brabants and subsequently worked with important institutions like the Ballet Royals des Flandres, but also with leading figures of the international choreographic field such as Laura Tanner, Hestelle Héritier and Myriam Gourfink. Among her most important works are Corps 00:00 (2002) created for ADC (Association pour la Danse Contemporaine of Geneva) – Fractie (2003), and in the same year, Balk 00:49. Among her most recent works is Pneuma 02:05 (2006) as well as the aforementioned Kernel.
The choreographer’s works have been presented in the most important international contexts, as well as the Biennale di Venezia (Venice Biennale) 37 and the International Theatre Festival in 2005 directed by Romeo Castellucci. Cindy Van Acker also worked for the choreographies of La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), also by Castellucci, for the Avignone Festival in 2008. Among her most recent works are her six “solos” created between 2008 and 2009 where the score was created by Mika Vainio, especially for the works Lanx (2008), Nixe (2009) and Obtus (2009).
Van Acker’s choreographic compositions seem to rotate around certain operative notions: these being the investigation into weight and its dynamics, the flow of movement and its suspension, as well as the relationship between these three components and the notion of time and space.
Therefore, on the Swiss’ choreographic scene, there are two main ways of articulating this relationship: on the one hand the diastematic relationship, the intervals, constituting of rhythmic caesuras; on the other, in an opposite sense, an adiastematic movement, therefore linear and continuous which thinks of movement as an internal modulation without caesuras. This is precisely the direction that is privileged in the compositions, which we will consider here: even if in some cases, the two lines tend to overlap one another.
Thanks to radical choreographic writing, signalled by a rigour that is at times almost mathematical, works such as Corps 00:00 or Kernel or the more recent Lanx and Obtus, seem to be thought out so they can step over the limits of the body and consequently deconstruct its figure.
In her choreographic writing, gravity has a binding role in the definition of the quality of movement: in order to manage this in the composition, it is necessary that the movement be weighed. In order to obtain a shift in weight the choreographer works on the dynamics and intensities of the forces used, as well as their vectorialisation. To weigh the movement means to “outline” its internal resistance, where weighing becomes weighing up the different movements in space.
Here we refer to an internal fall within the movement that is created by the shift in weight; it is, in other words, an infinitesimal fall that is produced by the deep articulation of the gesture. In other words it is a fall that, like a form of decalage, gives structure to the visible movement, informs it and deforms it incessantly on a micro-movement level.
Therefore it is a fall that operates on another level of resistance and produces a kind of vertigo that is determined by the abandonment of the traditional reference system founded on the alternation between verticality and horizontality, and rather exploring diagonal expression in works such as Lanx, Nixe and Obtus. It’s as if this vertigo is obtained in two different ways, according to two different strategies: on the one hand on the level of slowness in the organisation of movement, on the other- its opposite on the level of speed-acceleration.
On the level of slowness the movement does not have rhythmic fractures and the spectator is invited to enter into its folds and to follow its variations, the internal modifications. On the level of speed everything is redefined and the performer, as in a passage from Nixe (Perrine Valli) or Obtus (Marthe Krummenacher), doesn’t just carry out the score, but rather during the acceleration of the choreographic movement the posture transforms into a line, allowing the score to proliferate.
In other words, by augmenting the speed of execution of the single moments of movements, a progressive transformation is produced in the general motion of the score. In this case, from the point of view of movement analysis, this means triggering an internal resistance within the transformation. And the resistance, in this case, is also necessary for the maintaining of the score and the guarantee of the precision within its execution. In fact, if the movement were entirely and freely subject to flow, caused by the progressive acceleration of the performance, it would reach a point where it would collapse and fall apart.
From Van Acker’s work, especially this more recent phase of her research into the structure of movement itself in a geometric context, a radical re-thinking seems to emerge which invests the term anatomy with its etymology (anatomy: from the Greek word ana (upward) and tomé (cut): a directed cut). By forcing this interpretation a little, we could say that anatomy has to do with directions, with vectors: the relationships between speed and slowness, its way of being and how the movement is directed.
Therefore this means spatialising the body: making space with anatomy, with the directed disposition of the organs, their segments. It is precisely at this point that Van Acker activates a geometry of composition which allows to put movement in the spotlight and beyond being a mere shape of the body.
In other words it’s as if the movement – as in Nixe or better still, Obtus kept going when the body appears to have stopped. It is here that movement literally makes the space: the geometric perception of the scene varies from the varying of the lines that the movement- and therefore the presence of the performers draws in it.
In this sense, in Lanx, a current seems to cross the scene and make the body of the performer Van Acker create a kind of continuity in the space of the scene; as if there was a continuity that, from the lines that transversally outline the scenic space, passes directly to the body of the performer. The scenic line is static; the body is the mobile line. In this sense the movement extends beyond the body, coming into a direct relationship with the scenic structure.
By drawing geometric shapes in the space through folds and borders, the body probes the infinite possibilities through which it can leave a mark and give shape to the space. It is here that air takes shape, takes on a new volume. As if the body literally leant on the air, made the air a solid within which it can define the negative of the trace of the movement.
If in Lanx it isthe whole movement of the body in a logic based on opposition between the horizontal and vertical plane which is etched onto the space, in Nixe it is the movement of the arms, as a privileged sign of research into gesture, which will search for a crack in the air. In this solo the body tends to disappear, to fracture: it appears to be dismembered, literally, inside the light beam given off by the neon lights put on the set.
The movement is a vibration in the space. The dancer is to one side, parallel to the neon lights, a makes segments of her body emerge from these, collocating herself in the space between one and the other. It’s here that the body becomes an interval in the continuity of light: the silhouette emerges like a photographic negative.
Obtus, on the other hand, is a kind of counterpoint where the body in motion is used to research the limits of balance through the investigation into a precise and surgical movement, executed by the gesture of Marthe Krummenacher, a Forsythe dancer, who experiences the score as a ghost that frees vibrating movements into the air whose phantom characteristics are accentuated by the light.
In certain parts of this work, the body seems to disappear, leaving space for movement. The centre of the body no longer exists. The movement becomes a kind of interrogation of the vertebrae: the body becomes a piece of paper, a diagram, a constellation. Here lines must be traced at a variable speed capable of connecting all the peripheries of the body, all its extremities, making its shape literally explode.
The starting point of the movement does not correspond with the centre of the body (a unique point of equilibrium), but seems to come from one of its peripheries: arms, and even hands. In some phases of Obtus the movement seems to come from the hips, even if there is always one movement in an opposite direction which counterpoints it.
The opposition develops in two directions, toward the head and toward the feet; whereas the arms move in a kind of eponymy given by the relationship between the head and the arms. The figure seems to bend, to invert its directions from up and down, obtaining a spiral line that shakes the body by passing through it. In this new configuration, the eponymy is created by the legs and the head and, from behind, with the arms.
The figure that comes from this is completely deconstructed. In the image that is shown to the spectator, its globality, disappears in favour of an exhibition of details of a body that jump to centre-stage, as if exposed under a magnifying glass.
Within this structure – in Lanx as in Nixe or Obtus the light compositions play an essential role so as to take movement to the limelight. The luminous geometric shapes by Luc Gendroz seem to give a materiality to the space: they give volume to the scene just like the sound counterpoint by Vainio works in the direction of an atmospheric – therefore dense – construction of sound. The atmosphere is tense and the air becomes volume.
The light builds a liquid space that mutates constantly, isolating the body, allowing the movement to emerge in order to cross the space and, intermittently, imprint itself onto the retina of the spectator through a series of palpitations.
Light is matter and volume; here, in this dense luminosity, Van Acker’s set seems to be built, as in the past part of Nixe, on the model of a negative of a photograph: the performer’s body is perceived as a shadow, an interval in the luminous continuity of the neon lights on the backdrop. The neon lights deconstruct the silhouette of the body, transforming it into a shadow projected at the front of the stage. Its movement is, once again, a vibrating trace that the light delivers to the atmosphere.
III. The logic of resonance
From the point of view of a composition of a soundscape, the score elaborated by Mika Vainio for Lanx, Nixe and Obtus is the exact counterpoint of movement. It was thought out to be performed live, as a form of response to the gesture of the performer, the point of contact with the gesture can be perceived on an infinitesimal level. If on the one hand the movement seems to probe the smallest of shifts of weight that, just like in a microscope, are delivered to the spectators’ eye through the intervention of light, the sound is conceived as a continuous variation and alteration of its granular matter.
It’s here that we can talk about a resounding body that becomes matter and modulates on moments of density and rarefaction. At times tellurically penetrating, organised around a matrix of glitches, this sound emerges and disappears to the ear like a sculptured figure in the space, finding its resonance in both the choreographic movement and the spectators’ body.
As the body explores the threshold of the “visible”, sound explores the limits of the inaudible through an investigation into frequencies. There’s a subtle relationship with silence that Vainio seems to create for the scores created for these performances: silence is a place of emersion, the founding texture that allows for sound to manifest itself, to take shape, to become dense like an atmosphere, in a continuous dialectic of ampleness and retention, intensification and modulation at the brink of being perceptible. However the sound constitutes the field of tension on which the movement is based on: it’s an elementary pulsation that, in counteraction with the luminous density, releases tension into the air.
In other words, the sound travels over the space, tracing shapes that relate to those traced by the movement. When in Nixe the movement of the arms of the performer undulates, as if signalling an acceleration, a point of escape, the sound becomes more dense around this vibration to produce waves in the space, as if this were none other than a system through which the gesture, accompanied by and drawn by the light, reverberates and makes itself be seen.
Therefore, in Cindy Van Acker‘s compositional writing, there exists a mathematical score of relationships that evokes visual and auditory images, strongly influencing the aisthesis inside the work; it’s as if, in this logic of resonance, the sound added a state, a kind of relief to the movement and its entire perception.
IV. The brain is the screen
All of Van Acker’s work, and mostly her “solos” that have been mentioned above, have an impact of their level of reception: the scene is thought of as a magnetic field capable of redefining the perception of the spectator. This plunge is produced through the composition of an atmosphere, made up of sound and light tensions, from which a movement can emerge that can imprint itself onto the retina of the spectator. It is there that the brain can become a screen on which to inscribe the passing trace of the gesture.
In other words, it’s as if the movement produced by the performer is defined as well as on the material scene in a kind of simulation incarnated in the spectator. During the performance of the choreographic score a resonance is produced in those who watch which brings them to simulate the action of the performer: the spectators feel the tension that flows through the body they are observing in their muscular memory.
It is exactly in this reverberation that the body stops being a symbolic entity and radically opens up to its physical materiality.
The suspicion is that, for Van Acker, the material scene is just a passage point – a place where intensities which define the atmosphere are composed subliminally whereby to have an impact on the movement on the light-sensitive plate in the spectator’s brain, this being the real, the most hidden and the most radical stage.