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Raimund Hoghe with Faustin Linyekula


by Mark Franko and Juliet Neidish

September 18, 2010 -- Dance Theater Workshop, New York

Raimund Hoghe’s second appearance in New York City (Dance Theater Workshop, September 18, 2010) remains as vibrantly in memory as the first (see December 2009). The magic of Hoghe’s work is that with extreme quiet and spareness he is consistently able to provoke layers of meaning and expressivity both specific and poetic. In “Sans-titre” (“Undocumented”), co-presented by Dance Theater Workshop and the FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) Crossing the Line Festival, Hoghe collaborates with Congolese dancer/choreographer Faustin Linyekula. This work references borders and connections – both geographical and personal – suggesting important contemporary issues of exile, the national body, and statelessness.

These are questions and dilemmas close to the heart of both artists for different reasons. Linyekula was expelled from Nairobi for being there illegally, and has since returned to the former Zaire, former Belgian Congo, former Independent State of Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, to use dance and music to reclaim a space of social sustainability (Linyekula has located his company and studios Kabako in Kisangani: see Ariel Osterweiss Scott’s article forthcoming in “Dance Research Journal” 42/1). Hoghe’s German past reaching back to World War II is a subject that makes him less popular in Germany than in France. The Department of Homeland Security delayed approval of a visa for one of Hoghe’s dancers last year, thus making it impossible for him to travel. Hoghe’s choreographic solution to this was to perform as if the dancer were still there, creating an empty space for his absence.

“Sans-titre” unfolds as a ritual in which issues of identity are linked to uses of space and conceits of geography. In its dramaturgical structure, the work is recognizably Hoghe’s, but Linyekula’s movement is unique to himself. The two artists share a striking sympathy of purpose while remaining polar opposite stage presences in many respects. At the beginning, they walk toward each other but do not meet. Given Hoghe’s spinal deformation and small stature, he refrains from bold movement; Linyekula, on the other hand, is a virtuosic dancer whose elongated musculature accentuates the sinuous isolation of shoulders and neck, and a taut inner pulsing of muscles. His movement style unleashes memories of butoh, break dance, and Forsythe-inspired improvisation.

A candle upstage center and a small pile of stones on the floor delineate the stage space. Linyekula wears a white shirt; Hoghe is in black. Linyekula is taught and light; Hoghe is compact and short. Linyekula is barefoot; Hoghe is in stocking feet. What unites these two figures is gradually revealed in the slowly evolving choreography. Hoghe’s hump projects outward in the space he occupies (and this is stressed in particular when he lies on his stomach), whereas Linyekula’s body seems to be carved out in the way his movement can suggest crevasses in his body’s surfaces. Both figures are oddly in retreat with respect to the space they so hesitantly occupy. Much of “Sans-titre” is devoted to the counterpoint between these two performers as almost sculptural objects trying to make a space possible as a charter between them.

One of the first striking sequences occurs when Hoghe places sheets of white paper rhythmically and systematically along the three borders of the stage in perfect symmetrical order while Linyekula drops a trail of stones behind him, creating fragmented patterns on the floor. Linyekula next uses the stones to encircle his body parts, as if leaving an imprint of arms, hands, and head placed on the floor. The idea of mapping is presented relative to bodies that resist inscription. The sheets of paper delimit a space while the stones outline the space of the body imperfectly.

As we hear the soprano aria “Remember Me” from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” Linyekula lies on his stomach and carefully places the stones on the nape of his neck and along his spine. He then crawls around the stage on his hands and knees balancing the stones lodged in contracted muscle spaces on either side of his spine. With head down on all fours, he utters a shockingly unexpected wail, and begins to rid himself of the stones. This piercing sound came from an unidentifiable place and, at first, interrupted the musical harmony of the Purcell, but at times also overlapped and matched the mournful aria. Also used were excerpts from Bach’s “Passion According to Saint Matthew” and spirituals such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

A similar process occurs as Linyekula carefully and tenderly places the stones on Hoghe’s bare back as the latter lies with face pressed into the floor. Hoghe grasps the stones with whatever contortion it takes to reach them, and then shoves them away one by one across the floor. The polarities and congruities of the two mysterious performers develop in the course of the piece, especially in the display of their backs – one concave, one convex – which powerfully assert embodied identity. Motifs of standing with back to the audience for extended periods, folding over while moving forward, and walking backwards, all suggest that the back itself is a physical map. Linyekula has said: “Perhaps my only true country is my body.”

On September 29th, Linyekula appeared at Columbia University to discuss cultural ecology at the School of Architecture. I asked him how he found his concerns echoed in Hoghe’s work. His response was that Hoghe’s work is about “memory, history, and the strength to continue.” The work presented him with “a space for entering into silence” through which we can “look into ourselves and build upon our fears.”

The chance to see Raimund Hoghe’s “Sans-titre” was this year’s gift to the New York fall dance season.

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