Wellness

Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek

CAMPO and Transform, in collaboration with Northern School of Contemporary Dance

Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance

From 19 April 2017 to 20 April 2017

Review by Mark Smith

Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek are a controversy-courting choreographic duo whose show Wellness is the first in which they have also worked with other performers. One of several European collaborations presented in this year’s Transform Festival, it launches bold, humorous and challenging attacks on both audience expectations and the conventions of contemporary dance.

The show begins as the audience is still entering, with a repetitive, circling choreography involving four of the ensemble, set to a loop of Lana del Ray’s pounding, eerie "Brite Lites". "I look for you in magazines" pumps over the house PA as the quartet flaunt "Wellness"-branded magazines and employ the literal-minded mime and gesture of clichéd modern pop choreography.

Little by little, the audience member might become aware of other aspects of what’s being presented to them. The choreography is not always perfectly in sync, not polished; different dancers give the moves their own inflection; this cycle of moves might be both parody and celebration of the clichés in question. And wait, that shape in the centre of the floor is a woman, lying motionless.

Once the music stops, there is a brief interaction between the dancers, seemingly semi-improvised, which features Holzinger apparently poring over an interview or review of one of her previous shows, complaining that she’s been misquoted, misrepresented, and that the line quoted, a "superficial performance with depth", is anyway meaningless.

This framing dialogue is slightly stilted and jarring, but the performance launches from it into the introduction of the fifth ensemble member, Renée Copraij, the woman who had hitherto been lying motionless on a bed of shards of glass. Raised up by the other dancers, she appears as a beguilingly monotonous, almost Marina Abramović-esque figure, both narrator and ring-master.

This central figure, dressed in black, leads the others in a series of movements. She is slow-moving, calming, an outside eye to the neon-daubed, honed bodies of the dancers. She side-coaches as they move through some at times extraordinary sequences. She becomes yoga instructor, choreographer, sun god, even.

Holzinger and Riebeek’s previous work, Schönheitsabend, shown at last year’s Transform Festival, included some stunningly physical choreography, some ambitious renegotiation of tradition and convention, and a clear, mischievous—almost malign—awareness of how to play on audience expectation. It was at times breathtakingly taboo-breaking, and Wellness comes with a similar array of health warnings.

So it is that the narrator figure moves from sun god to rain god, hoist above the others and showering across the stage a thick coating of lubricating fluid as the dancers strip off to complete nudity and begin writhing on the treacherously slippery surface. They become increasingly intertwined and physically daring—sexualised, aggressive, gentle and joyful by turns.

It’s a performance which often rewards attention to the reaction of fellow audience members as much as to the action on stage; like the duo’s previous work, the show dances on points at the intersection of expectation, shock and humour. There are excruciated groans and dark chortles from the audience at various moments; often there are both combined.

The piece interrogates ‘wellness’ and the desires which drive people to shape, show off and share their bodies, in a series of dances playing on the physical and verbal vocabularies of the movement coach, the guru, the rock video, and even one of the wittiest, knottiest and most wry portrayals of a terrible X-Factor-style show I have seen.

There are questions about how far such provocation can be taken. But Holzinger and Riebeek are also keenly aware of this, seeking new ways to use their bodies adventurously and shockingly but also playing around the shocks of their past work. Questions of repetition and renewal come up at several points.

Our narrator and central focus speaks of the company’s aspiration to explore the possibility of "dance speaking clearly". The provocative movement sequences here—at times wearing but at others aweing and invigorating—show that speaking clearly does not equate to speaking unambiguously or to shutting off debate; quite the opposite. "Superficial with depth", indeed.