Feb 212017

The performance turned out to be a nervy but hypnotic game of endurance for performer and audience members.

FOLK-S, will you still love me tomorrow, staged by Alessandro Sciarroni. At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, February 17 and 18.

A scene from Alessandro Sciarroni's FOLK-S. Photo: Andrea Macchia

A scene from Alessandro Sciarroni’s FOLK-S. Photo: Andrea Macchia.

By Mary Paula Hunter

In dim light six dancers stomped and body slapped a rhythm as the audience filed into the ICA theatre for FOLK-S, will you still love me tomorrow, a performance piece by Italian choreographer Alessandro Sciarroni. Behind the dancers, Boston Harbor, a full participant in this ingenious performance, provided added light and fluidity. The natural view of the harbor contrasted with the artificiality of the action onstage–a relentlessly performed Tyrolean folk motif stripped of style and context. For the first five to ten minutes, during which the lights remained low, tension built as the dancers in tight squares and circles hit themselves and stomped. Certainly, you thought, the stripped down rhythmic phrase would burst into something wild when the lights went up. And yet, with the exception of a few breaks to give the dancers a moment to catch their breath, the limited choreography remained unchanged and inward focused.

But FOLK-S hardly lacked theatricality, deriving its intensity not from the contrast of solo and group, star turns, or endlessly inventive dance-making, but rather from the power of the collective. These performers seemed to be forever bound together — as if they were trapped in a game of Concentration. However unlike the children’s game, FOLK-S absorbed small errors (mistakes cropped up now and then) into the action. Dancers continually adjusted to each other’s faults as well as to slight changes in orientation and protracted pauses.

Although the dancers addressed each other rather than audience members, we did not feel excluded. Indeed, we became a participant in the performance. Giggles erupted, words of encouragement–one audience member echoed the rhythm, spontaneously clapping during a pause. Passivity was not an option and questions piled up: When will the lights change? Have the indefatigable dancers varied the Tyrolean folk dance rhythm one began to memorize? Why is there only one woman amongst the six stomping, body slapping dancers? Instead of answers, Sciarroni posed more questions.

Did the dancers signal each other for changes in the arrangement of the group, acting more like a team than dancers relying on set choreography? Like football players, they often looked to the side or even behind at fellow dancers as if searching for instructions on how to proceed. We delighted in every small change, a relief from so much sameness. This back and forth between variation and the unchanging string of movements lent the work an entirely mesmerizing quality.

During the pre-performance lobby talk, Sciarroni’s work was compared to that of Marina Abramovic, particularly The Artist is Present, her piece in which she stared at one visitor after the next for forty full days. Chris Burden’s Bed Piece also came to mind: he moved a bed into a gallery exhibition space and lived there, without speaking, for 22 days. Like José Saramago’s novel Blindness, FOLK-S was a fable about collectivity, the support of a group and its willingness to accommodate individual needs. As performers peeled off, giving in to fatigue, boredom, and perhaps bodily functions, the remaining group grew tighter until two were left in a friendly draw. Winning has its limitations.

Mary Paula Hunter lives in Providence, RI. She’s the 2014 Pell Award Winner for service to the Arts in RI. She is a choreographer and a writer who creates and performs her own text-based movement pieces.


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