One of my strongest experiences as an audience during the Ravnedans festival this year was to attend the performance of Harald A. Beharie and Louis Schou-Hansen.
The piece they presented at Ravnedans was a re-staging of a site specific creation for the club Elsker in Oslo in 2015 which since has been performed at Seminarium#6 in Sandnes, Galleri Entrée in Bergen and by Kaospiloterne in Aarhus, Denmark.
For the Ravnedans version, the audience was sitting in a big circle on the old stage of the former Agder Teater in Kristiansand. The space recalled the atmosphere of an old cathedral with vertiginous height. It was dark and cold. With a metallic sound, the wind was moving the front curtain that delimited the room on one side. We could hear the seagulls screaming outside far above us. The centre of the space was lit with a dimmed blue light.
(S)kjønn safari, documentation
Harald A.Beharie and Louis Schou-Hansen entered the circle wearing minimal speedos: two tall, beautiful, incredibly similar young bodies. In the first part, they slowly embraced each other, climbed on each other, lifted each other and kept on falling heavily, with and against each other. They constantly built new sculptural constructions in precarious equilibrium before a brusque move provoked a sudden crash. A wrestling match, both sensual and extremely violent. In the second part, the two bodies separated, submitted to sudden tension, they freeze in distorted positions and kept on collapsing on the floor. At the end, they both fought gravity by lifting legs and upper body from the floor in a Graham-pose in what seems to be a competition to hold the position as long as possible, before simultaneously giving up.
I experienced the piece as beautiful and powerful, particularly the first part that left a strongest impact in my memory. By watching the two admirably skilled performers negotiating, taking risk, never reaching an agreement or the stability, I could feel physically a growing tension that strokes the unbearable. One of the typicalities of this piece was that the dance didn’t represent something or served a concept, the physical task was the concept, clearly exposing the dialectic between power and fragility.
It seems to me that (S)kjønn Safari was in this version an hymn to the freedom and beauty that characterises youth, often perceived as fearless, indestructible and exclusive.
I also saw this piece in Galleri Entrée in Bergen, which is a tiny space where the performers were closer to the audience – sometimes they would almost meet us, the whole piece seemed more rough, exposing the weaknesses of the body, at some point Harald A. Beharie was close to throwing up on the audience’s feet. Though I liked the Entrée version very much, I appreciated that Beharie and Schou-Hansen chose to adapt the piece radically to the new space in Kristiansand, offering a more polished version. The atmosphere was more dramatic, more spectacular, giving a supernatural aura to the performers, creating a separation with the audience.
As I left the theatre with intense feelings, I read the text in the program for the first time. It said that the work was based on the attempt to present a gender neutral being or third gender. It also spoke of artistic institutional framework. I found myself a bit perplexed and dubious and I was not sure to grasp what it referred to. Was this program text written as a much earlier stage of the process? Was it a general statement of the artists rather than a description of the piece? Was the text just pretentious?
I felt that I definitely saw two male figures fitting to a classical idea of physical perfection rather than to the idea of a neutral body. I saw a male figure that was powerful or in constant search of power, competitive and ultra violent. I personally didn’t think it was problematic in itself, but it was quite surprising that the premises of this work seemed to be precisely to build a gender neutral proposal. I was for sure extremely glad I could encounter the piece without having read the program’s explanation first as I thought the work managed to communicate directly through physical language. As I wrote above, for me the piece was more about the ambivalence of will to power than about gender, but my point is that the power of dance is that it leaves the audience to relate individually to the work.
This experience makes me question the role of program texts in general. I wish such texts could be able to invite the audience and give them some keys to understand a piece while at the same time leaving enough space and freedom for the audience’s own navigation and interpretation, not underestimating the power of the work nor the power of the words, offering an opening rather than narrowing the way one is supposed to read the work.