Amarante Velarde: Desbordes

Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
February 24, 2023

‘Desbordes’ translates literally as overflow. The kitsch stage design certainly reflects that with its abundance of props and camp, new romantic, 1980s-style costumes worn by the performers and unveiled piece by piece throughout the performance.

Featuring Amaranta Velarde, who conceived and directs the piece, fellow dancer Juan Cristóbal Saavendra, and Guillem Jiménez as DJ, Desbordes is a work of excesses, absurdities and exuberance that delves into the need we all have at times to seek altered states of awareness and create alternative identities as a way of evading or sidestepping mundane constraints and emptiness.

The performers seem to play and embody a fantasy: their fantasy. They are reminiscent of characters from a Tim Burton movie. Eyes open wide in surprise, awe or shock; exaggerated facial expressions show puzzlement or excitement; and quirky, absurd movement makes the show cinematic and full of memorable photogenic moments.

Desbordes by Amaranta Velarde
Photo Tristan Perez-Martin

The tacky stage designs include a flowery door framing Jiménez and his DJ set, a vertical composition of flowers hiding a mic that is used to emphasise Saavendra’s moan-singing, another composition of plastic flowers on the floor, and a wall full of small pictures that are exposed only mid-way through the performance.

The space is infused with bright, shiny colours, including pink and blue feathers that fall endlessly from black umbrellas that the two performers keep opening and dropping on the floor.

What most would regard as steps is quite minimal, making the show a performance of tableaux vivant rather than a dance piece. Velarde moves around on pointe while looking at the audience with surprise, then stands, feet rooted to the spot, while she interacts in slow-motion with various props. Saavendra walks across the stage with assurance, putting everything he finds in his mouth before spitting it out again or letting it fall to the floor as if he couldn’t or wouldn’t retain it. I felt this was the strongest image in the whole piece, one that repeats several times and that is particularly communicative.

Sometimes the two dancers interact briefly, sometimes they project themselves wildly as if alone. There is some fast legwork, and some small movements of upper bodies, but they don’t transmit any specific narrative.

Despite the scene being a playground, there is a sense of aloofness and of casualty in most of the three performers’ behaviour. They seem to be playing, but not having fun. They look like bodies surrendering, at the mercy of what is there and what comes. They look like they are part of a dreamlike world, dragged different directions by various scenarios, pulled along by a dreamy flow. Indeed, most of the scenes don’t even seem to be set, but rather improvised while as the show happens.

I read in the program that the starting points for Desbordes were its blend of elements, the kitsch aesthetics, its sense of optimism and exuberance, and its particular theatricality that leads to denaturalisation and artificiality through excess and escapism.

Yet, while the show is a very interesting and apt way to reflect on the society we live in, I didn’t always see that. Despite the effective exploitation of the many props, I felt Desbordes could have benefitted from stronger content and interpretation from the performers themselves.

The choreographer’s intention to investigate notions of overflowing and containment through stage aesthetics, corporeality and choreographic language was somewhat achieved, but it could have been more convincing.