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Renee E. D'Aoust
Performance Reviews
Special Focus
Chiasso, OT (Switzerland)

Swiss Contemporary Dance Days - Focus on Tiziana Arnaboldi and Foofwa d'Imobilité

by Renee E. D'Aoust
January 25, 2009
Chiasso, OT (Switzerland)
Swiss Contemporary Dance Days
Ticino, Switzerland
January 22-25, 2009

"The Making of Spectacles"
Foofwa d'Imobilité et Compagnie
Cinema Teatro
Chiasso, Switzerland
23 January 2009, Friday, 15:15

"Volo Via—Condannato Libero"
Compagnia Teatrodanza Tiziana Arnaboldi
Palazzo dei Congressi
Lugano, Switzerland
23 January 2009, Friday, 20:30
Most people don't expect modern dance to be funny. Dancing barefoot is supposed to be serious stuff. But Foofwa d'Imobilité's The Making of Spectacles is supremely funny—think of Foofwa as a brilliantly gifted clown who does everything, including choreograph. My impression is backed up by others: In February 2009, d'Imobilité was awarded an individual 25,000 dollar grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Artists in New York.

As varied and spectacular as the landscape in this small alpine country, Swiss Contemporary Dance Days showcased a vibrant contemporary dance culture; for example, the performance art of Gilles Jobin, the haunting evocations of Nicole Seiler, and the full-muscled flair of Tiziana Arnaboldi. For each festival a different region hosts; the 2009 iteration featured performances by fifteen different companies over four days in Ticino, the Italian-speaking area in southern Switzerland. Based in Geneva and in New York City, choreographer Foofwa d'Imobilité stood out for his spectacle and humor.

Foofwa d'Imobilité's choreography is full of play, illusion and risk. In The Making of Spectacles, he actually lets the audience vote to create the spectacle that a particular audience wants to see. (Wouldn't it be great if a high-tech theatre provided instant voting gadgets instead of the performers diligently counting raised hands?) As the audience voted on movement phrases, theatrical scenes, costumes, lights and music (aided by projected subtitles), we took ownership over the dance; I didn't want to be disappointed, but whereas humor had played a pivotal role in the production process, the piece we created felt a little dry. All that voting fun makes for a few crash landings, as some jokes land flat, especially when performed in two or more languages (don't forget the scripted gibberish, too). Some of that choreographed play based on audience decisions is bound to be super funny in one language but not so funny in another. Sometimes movement is not a universal medium. No matter. Foofwa takes us by the hand, lets the four performers, which includes him, show us our options, and we decide.

No doubt other versions, based on other votes, are more humorous; after all, d'Imobilité's comedic touch and scope combines Beckett with Shakespeare using the latest and greatest 21st century technology. Never thought modern dance would make you laugh? Think again.

When a dancer can both balance and fall off balance, movement becomes humorous because the human body in control, yet out of control, is a funny thing. A dancer speaking in tongues while opening the arms in a port de bras makes one laugh because the contrast is so glaring—again, control and lack of control. You don't expect Ruth Childs, a powerful performer, to poke fun at herself, but how can we take seriously a woman wearing plastic and performing a zombie move? We take her seriously because she is controlled as she sinks to the ground, and she stands so effortlessly that we see her craft, technique and humor all at once. Ruth Childs is a sort of Wonder Woman, and Foofwa d'Imobilité is a sort of Wonder Clown.

There are moments of humor in Volo Via—Condannato Libero, by choreographer Tiziana Arnaboldi, but this is primarily an atmospheric yet vigorous work. We could be in a deserted factory with two tables; we might be in an abandoned lot with rubber balls. Arnaboldi uses her three men and three women well, assigning specific moves to body types and strengths, but sometimes the repetition of signature phrases feels too predictable. It's hard to make a robust dance that doesn't rely on tricks, but Arnaboldi rises to the demands of Mauro Casappa's often driving score by providing physical surprises that stop us from thinking that her people might be running nowhere fast.

It might not be clear where we will end up in d'Imobilité's The Making of Spectacles, but the process to get there is transparent. I have never been at a performance that uses such a democratic process to create art, and how fitting that Foofwa spends time in the United States and in Switzerland, surely two countries who vote more often than others. Because of his dual locations, Foofwa is perhaps forced to ask, when choreographing humor, just when is dance funny? And why?

Foofwa d'Imobilité uses tradition while both mocking and somehow extending it. I'm not sure how he accomplishes this feat, but it must be in part because he and his dancers are exquisitely trained—how else can you poke fun at dance? d'Imobilité's years performing with the Cunningham troupe surely gave him experience and confidence. But there is something more here. Call it play in the fields of the masters. Call it illusion in the Land of Oz. Call it whatever you want, but go see his choreography.

Renée E. D'Aoust's most recent publication is an essay in Robert Gottlieb's anthology Reading Dance (Pantheon Books).
'The Making of Spectacles' by Foofwa d'Imobilité Ruth Childs (dancer)

"The Making of Spectacles" by Foofwa d'Imobilité
Ruth Childs (dancer)

Photo © & courtesy of Cédric Vincensini

'The Making of Spectacles' by Foofwa d'Imobilité Foofwa d'Imobilité (choreographer and dancer)

"The Making of Spectacles" by Foofwa d'Imobilité
Foofwa d'Imobilité (choreographer and dancer)

Photo © & courtesy of Cédric Vincensini

'The Making of Spectacles' by Foofwa d'Imobilité Foofwa d'Imobilité (choreographer and dancer) and Isabelle Rigat (dancer)

"The Making of Spectacles" by Foofwa d'Imobilité
Foofwa d'Imobilité (choreographer and dancer) and Isabelle Rigat (dancer)

Photo © & courtesy of Cédric Vincensini

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