February 1, 2020
As we enter the impressive auditorium of Funkhaus for Las Casas Invisibles (The Invisible Houses) by artistic director of KDV Kiani del Valle, the stage is illuminated only by a big spotlight. After some minutes, Maya Gomez and Tsai Ya-chun enter and sit back to back as though charging energy for the performance. They look like thoughtful warriors, but soon begin to play, like children teasing each other. From warriors to children, the transition is not linear but the playfulness is authentic and the two dancers are remarkable for being able to inhabit such disparate roles in the space of only ten minutes.
Simultaneously, the rest of the performers dance between two sound systems in the back; then gather in the centre of the stage, dissolving then assembling again in a sort of growing wave. In general, the movements are fluid, easy and quite repetitive, making one think about a sort of necessary basic communication. Some movement phrases based on interconnection and closeness between the performers reveal empathy, but it is not clear whether that’s because there are shared and similar stories connecting them all, or if it is Del Valle’s personal story projected on the dancers.
Some moments of tenderness as much as playfulness show an internal complicity. There is a sense of belonging among the dancers. Actions support the group, probably due to the communal constant migration and the feeling of never arriving at a concrete concept of home.
That reflects del Valle’s own experiences. Having previously lived in Puerto Rico, Montreal and Los Angeles, she now works between London and Berlin. Each city has brought different experiences and lifestyles. New ways of thinking and behaving become part of a morphing way to be.
Something both enriching and displacing can be read in the piece as light and burdensome moments with frolicsome interactions contrast with the gravity of movements that seem absorbed by the floor. The joyfulness of the dancers calls to mind the enthusiasm of being free and alone in new places searching for new families and new groundings. On the other hand, as in real life, moments of solitude, fear and insecurities can be also be perceived, the group tainting each other with personal worries.
Fluid solos are danced by Alvin Collantes, Ruben Mendo Mbese, Sophia Ndaba and Sebastian Abarbanell, either improvised using their own dance language or based on del Valle’s choreographic choices. The difference between them is clearly seen in the nature of the movements and the composition. The movements may appear quite simple but del Valle, who has previously worked with film, videos and commercials, gives a cinematic visualisation to the performance.
Composition-wise, the work has some unexpected, even puzzling, moments as scenarios change. Those include shouting, dancers casually immersing themselves in the watching crowd, the way structured and group phrases dissolve into shivery solos, and the appearance of queer singer Lotic, who appears suddenly on a small terrace over the stage singing sonorously.
The song is about how it is necessary to find love and peace in our selves despite any emotional or physical migration or displacement we are in. The lyrical voice and character of Lotic, self-described “ferocious femme”, captures the attention being as much peculiar as eccentric.
The spatial setting is interesting, the action taking the attention to unexpected spots. The dancers move through the audience, lie down between spectators, dance next to the wooden walls of the auditorium.
Peculiar also are the costumes in red, yellow, black and pink by Olive Duran. Some dresses are monochrome and baggy, others stretchy with holes and patterns of wavy strips. The style appears somewhat as ‘punk-trashy’. Colourful, shiny, glittery hair gives a futuristic glamour to a work that mostly appears quite dark and sinister. The cavernous and immersive soundscape with its extensive and mutable sounds is bonded to the movements and contributes to that darkness.
Considering the choreographic composition and believing that del Valle wants to point also at dictatorship, colonialism and migration, using the metaphor of a white man as perpetrator shouting at the rest of the cast, and having the only black guy shirt-less and in baggy trousers, appears to some degree as unfortunately clichéd. That being said, the explicit connection to the inhumane treatment of people living under dictatorships and colonialism, and the way countries worldwide deal with migration, is made clear.
Las Casas Invisibles seems to be a patchwork of ideas and del Valle’s personal memories, all related to a lost sense of belonging, an ephemeral concept of home and various forms of mistreatment and tyranny. The contrasting movement vocabulary and conflicting scenarios do often lead to narrative puzzlement. Nevertheless, Las Casas Invisibles is entertaining thanks to the delightful dancers and the way the dance dialogues with the live music. More structure would have made it more effective, however. It is loaded with valid ideas but they are ultimately not very decipherable. A lack of dramaturgy contributes to an unclarity of intent that eventually leaves you perplexed and pondering about the whole.