Oleg Stepanov: I can’t be present due to traveling

Reviewed from film

Veronica Posth

Oleg Stepanov, one of the many outstanding dancers in the ensemble of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch is also a brilliant and innovative freelance performer. His dance language continues to emerge in intriguing creations that lead to fresh discoveries.

His most recent multi-media piece, I can’t be present due to traveling, has impactful features that not only engages the audience intimately, but also allows brings forth ideas about the fragilities and endangered outcomes that face humans in relation to post humans. It gives space to reflect on the solitude of the individual in a multi-connected world, about paradoxes of new kinds of intelligence and interactions and ultimately, about the subsequent discord and incompatibility of different types of communication.

A giant airy cube made out of fragile foil (think of a softer version of kitchen aluminium foil) stands alone at the beginning of the show. It looks like a harmless monster that clumsily moves across the space. As it moves, it produces waves of indecipherable sound; noises that bring to mind a cavernous industrial building.

I can’t be present due to traveling by Oleg Stepanov
I can’t be present due to traveling by Oleg Stepanov

No human presence yet; just this massive cube that sucks up a microphone. It is a creature with its own vital force, an unpredictable presence and protagonist.

Suddenly the cube gives space to Stepanov to be visible. He lies down, supine, totally abandoned, but is soon once again swallowed by the big moving creature. Finally unveiled fully, he is on the floor, lying in front of a standing microphone. He’s worried, thinking about his next move. After a few seconds, he impetuously stands and a female robotic voice starts reciting:

I am surprised how silent you are…  I must say something… It might disappear quickly, again. Sometimes, I think… Sometimes, I don’t… What, is, in me…from me…

Back on the floor, Stepanov moves as if possessed by spasms. The female voice moves on:

Would you like to separate, ourselves, from all previous existence, and disappear, the next moment? Let’s mainly, listen, and nor react today, I know, it’s too much, in the morning. Which predestination, can we give, to the whole world, when we finally decode, and decrypt it and will have it, at our disposal…

Trying to stand, Stepanov appears to fight with gravity. He attacks the cube; head first, then with one of his hands. One senses he is rejected. Yet, slowly, a dialogue with the strange, flexible but sturdy giant emerges. The interaction is beautiful as they play hide and seek, animated by a childish desire for fun. The cube is fascinating, constantly changing form and colour. A true metamorphic being.

I can’t be present due to traveling by Oleg Stepanov
I can’t be present due to traveling by Oleg Stepanov

Another interruption. Back at the mic, Stepanov appears about to say something but instead we again hear the woman:

Why do I do what I don’t really want? Why do I have to do something good? Why am I here? We have to put pressure and a voice out there. I make no promises, or agree on anything… I said nothing. Nothing, what I said. Please do not forget.

As the robotic voice keeps asking ‘whys’, Stepanov hides himself in the cube, looking like an animal entering and adjusting in his nest.

Any sense of comfort is soon broken when he suddenly emerges with pig ears. In a dark green light, he looks at himself and his limbs, seemingly not recognising the creature he is. He touches his new ears, looks at his arms and legs. He’s confused. Things have shifted inside and out. Then he immerses in the soft sculpture that now is no longer a cube rather a fluffy and flaccid textile wrap.

Meaning starts to become clear in the last few minutes when we are faced by a big screen on which a man translates through sign language humankind’s evolution from nomads to farmers, the female robotic voice translating into words before jumping into the history of sign language, creating confusion in both the video and the audience. Stepanov’s point is that both the meaning of what the man is saying and the form of communication are codes of in a coordinated system. Inevitably we are drawn to reflect upon the complexity of communication but most of all about its context: where and when it takes place.

Stepanov fades away with his completely deflated companion, fluorescent and shiny but a magic creature breathing its last breaths. The human presence has been absorbed by it. What remains are the last sparkles of something that recalls sea corals before dying; a shining, magnetic, wonderful beauty that it won’t be seen anymore, but that will stay in mind for a long time.