ZOO TV online
August 25, 2020
The cancellation of this year’s Fringe meant no visit from the always worth seeing Lenka Vagnerová & Company from Prague. Among the ZOO TV programmes there is the chance to go behind the scenes with the making of their award-winning 2017 piece, Amazones, however.
“Anything masculine, human, kill it. That’s the only mission,” goes a voice-over at the start of the 16-minute documentary. And on the evidence of the film, Amazones certainly has a lot of intensity and ferocity in it. But Vagnerova explains how she has tried to go beyond the extreme violence of real tribes and Amazons of Greek mythology to consider how a society like this works, and where the violence comes from in the first place.
We hear how the dancers spent ten weeks learning real combat movement vocabulary, principles of combat techniques and movement patterns from Radek Mačák, an expert in various martial arts, full contact sports such a kick boxing, and unarmed combat using improvised weapons. That was absolutely essential he says, explaining that he could only style fighting movement if the dancers understood it fully. The dancers admit it was as challenging as it looked.
But on the evidence of the rehearsal footage, it worked. As they launch into dance combat with bare hands, sticks, even long whips, it is all dark, aggressive, visceral and quite realistic. There is violence between the women too, most notably from one character, who bullies and even sexually abuses the others, although amid that and the incredible strength are moments of tenderness too. Violence to themselves too in the form of self-harm, in particular in one graphic scene that references the women cutting off their breasts, which tribes reputedly did to make weapons easier to handle.
Live, the 70-minute Amazones promises not to be an easy watch but I suspect it’s one that it might be difficult to take your eyes off.
Also from Prague is the superb Correction by VerTeDance, which many will remember from their visit in 2015. It’s the piece that features seven dancers standing in a line across the stage and who never move their feet.
It works just as brilliantly on film as it does live. It’s a super example of how restriction can encourage creativity in ways it might well not otherwise have gone. For all the problems it caused, the recent lockdown is another good example of how choreographers and teachers have had to be creative and find new ways of doing things. It’s been fascinating to see how quickly ideas have developed and techniques moved on.
Having their shoes nailed to the floor, manes that the dancers are able to explore a wide range of movement that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. There are nice patterns, movement passed down the line, explorations of physics and so on, humour too, most notably in a comic skit with a banana.
That banana crops up in Korekce v karante (Correction in quarantine) too, a 6-minute April 2020 remake of the original. While the movement is pretty much all from the original, it doesn’t work half as well simply because what links together all those elements of Correction is relationships; those little looks, sideways glances and outright stares. In the lockdown remake, they are not there. They cannot be there. And the dance is sadly, but naturally, the weaker for it.
A raw piece of dance for the camera comes in Are You Numb Yet? by Matsena Performance Theatre. Written and directed by Kel and Anthony Matsena, it’s about as hard-hitting as it gets and proves can can deliver a clear, powerful message in just a few minutes. The opening scenes take us to a Black Lives Matter protest. But the short film is not about that per se, not even about the actuality of the violence, the tear gas and the gunshots, although that is there, but about the aftermath and the journey of one man through the trauma that follows, from the events themselves and of living in a world that sometimes seems itself to have become numb and fallen into a cycle of indifference towards injustice.
We find him alone, jealous of people who can ‘turn it off’, shut their eyes and forget about it. Inside his mind, we see for real what he is ‘seeing’ in his head. In some shots he appears trapped in a cave, a place with no escape.
The quickfire editing and the straining of the score (by Lara Agar) puts everything perfectly on edge as it cuts between faces, although often, like memories, they are just shapes. When we do see clearly, faces are sometimes anonymised by masks. Those same people haul themselves towards him. “I used to have allies…but now…”
“Are you numb yet? I’ll take your silence as a yes,” he says. And finally, and most powerfully, tellingly, “We may have broken the chains, but the scars remain.”
Matsena Performance Theatre will revisit the repercussions of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter again in their new Geometry of Fear, which premieres at Messums Wiltshire in Tisbury on September 5, 2020. Visit messumswiltshire.com for details.
ZOO TV remains available on catch up until August 28, 2020. Visit www.zoofestival.co.uk.