Thomas Hauert & ZOO: Efeu

Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
January 20, 2023

At the end of a sunny day, as most Barcelona days are, even in winter, Swiss dancer Thomas Hauert and his company ZOO performed at the beautiful La Casa de la Danza, better known as Mercat de les Flors, the city’s theatre dedicated to showing contemporary dance.

Founded in 1998 in Brussels after Hauert had worked with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, David Zambrano and Pierre Droulers among others, ZOO performed Efeu, described as “a kind of diptych in which the driving force of the movement comes from the emotional states that the current state of the world gives us.”

It opens up on a rectangular white piece of linoleum lifted at its four corners. Four also are the performers who, in duets and then in compositions of four, take the space as they try to find a balance within the imbalances in the work.

ZOO in Thomas Hauert’s Efeu
Photo Bart Grietens

Suspension within a flow is what came to mind as I watched the performers dancing out of sync despite often being in contact physically. Appearing to improvise by themselves and with others in a precarious game of imbalances and trials, they look disconnected yet equally always attentive for each other’s tempo and movements.

The pace is quite fast resulting in some small collisions as the dancers play with each other. It looks like a serious game where the goal is to play delicately with shifting weight and to test the boundaries of instability, yet not to fall.

Moments of release and tension constantly alternate. The dancers move next to and with one another reacting to what happens. Each seems to be at the mercy of external factors, trying to react to and sustain the energies perceived. They create a square running towards and away from each other as if part of an orbital constellation in which they are attracted to one another yet unable to connect. It is a fluid interaction despite the individual differences in motion and the variable and versatile individual choices that are made second by second.

That flow within the work keeps the onlookers engaged and alert as they watch those bodies that persist in playing with each other despite their differences and divergences. It makes one think of couples who stick together, constantly trying to find a utopian balance and harmony, despite their strong incompatibilities. In Efeu, there is a sort of closeness, there is abandonment from one body to the other, there is repair when the dancers venture too out of balance, there is a constant trying to make it work and a desire to find common ground but, somehow, they never fully come together.

Care and repair are also visible between the dancers, who at times acknowledge and smile at each other in mutual recognition of playfulness and trust despite their dissimilarities.

The accompanying sound track opens with the lyrical song, ‘Senza Fine’ by Ornella Vanoni, Lucio Dalla and Gino Paoli, before moving on to a solemn classical melody by Eric Thielemans and Bart Celis. At times we also hear birds singing and then a delicate waterfall. The silences in between contribute to the sense of suspension and help make the show.

It doesn’t pierce on an emotional level but Efeu is a work that gives the brain space to wander. The movement is captivating if emotionless with little contact established with the audience. Indeed, the only time I felt a connection with the performers and the piece was at its conclusion, when a tender and cheerful duet is danced to Marvin Gaye’s groovy ‘Mercy, Mercy Me.’ There is something catchy about it, and an exchange of smiles and funny faces as two dancers slightly eccentrically and playfully dance with one another in a jolly and sympathy inducing duet.