July 30, 2021
Blitirí is a medieval word without meaning that was used by the late Scholastics and other philosophers. Not unlike ‘blahblahblah’, says Goyo Montero, choreographer and Artistic Director of Nuremberg Ballet (Ballett am Staatstheater Nürnberg). “To hear it makes you smile,” he told me a couple of months ago.
And while it certainly has a darker underlayer, there is a lot of smiling to be done watching the Blitirí that is his new work. A reflection on dance, on joy, on being connected with the music, and on the dancer and the love-hate relationship all have with themselves, it’s colourful in every way. The choreography is fast-paced and quirky, often with that sense of improvisation when no-one is looking. In fact, not unlike Mozart’s free-sounding piano variations on ‘Unser dummer Pöbel meint’ from Gluck’s French comic opera La Rencontre imprévue, that came out of his own improvisations, and to which the work is largely danced.
It starts very differently, however. To sinisterly portentous sounds by Owen Belton, the cast of nine emerge and retreat into the shadows. In Montero and Margaux Manns’ gender-fluid and very brightly-coloured costumes (which are also elegant in an odd sort of way), they twist and turn, stumble and fall, like souls tumbling through endless darkness. There’s orange, red, yellow, green, blue, pink. The shiny latex-like material squeaks as they brush against each other.
Then the light comes up, the Mozart kicks in and the fun starts. When the dancers line up, as at the beginning, it’s as though they are notes on a stave. Each note produces a response as the music plays right then left along the line. That idea repeats later but similar lines are also the cue for a domino-like chain reaction.
The movement is frequently eccentric and idiosyncratic; always inventive. There’s a childlike playfulness as the dancers quite often pretend to be silly. They shake, wriggle, leap, lay on their backs and wave legs in the air. The ensemble sometimes comes together in unison but it’s never long before a solo or duet breaks out, some of the latter proving quite tender.
All the time, film editor Stefan Kleeberger plays cleverly with perspectives. Brief overhead shots give a bird’s eye-view and open unexpected windows on the dance while close-ups reveal detail that would likely be missed sitting in the auditorium.
And then, it looks like the end. We hear cheering. We see the dancers line up for a curtain call. Then, reality hits. As the camera moves behind them, we find ourselves looking out on row after row of empty seats. A theatre without an audience. The dancers look confused. The message here is surely that dancers need a live audience just as much as the audience needs live dance. As good as some digital dance has been, including Blitirí, it is not the same and for many simply doesn’t cut it.
As the shadows return, we now see that what looked like stars above was actually the reflection of the light on a huge cloud of black balloons above that now clearly hover ominously. The mood eases for a while as Bobby McFerrin’s vocal take on The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, the ensemble turning and rolling as they ebb and flow across the stage, but it darkens again as the balloons rain down, carpeting the floor and making the stage look like the aftermath of a disaster.
The dance to PJ Harvey’s punk rock ballad ‘Rid of Me’ is initially as calm as the song. The balloons are playthings and the sense of fun remains. But as the volume ramps up and the music gets increasingly aggressive and snarling, the stage becomes a more difficult and violent place. The balloons become barriers to meeting, they become weapons, they swallow dancers. It ends dramatically, one of the men, covered in balloons as if being eaten alive by them, flails madly as the others burst his aggressors one by one, creating a dramatic fusillade of sound. Then silence.
Much uncertainty remains in the world, but it’s nice to report on dance that doesn’t take itself too seriously, for much of the time at least. But, like the real world, darker things are seen to lurk beneath. Blitirí may be lots of things, but devoid of meaning it most definitely is not.
Blitirí is freely available on the Staatstheater Nuernberg YouTube channel.
It was originally part of a triple bill that also included Metamorphers by Jacopo Godani, and Woke Up Blind by Marco Goecke, that premiered live at the Staatstheater Nürnberg on July 10, 2021.