One body inhabited by many: Calixto Neto’s oh!rage


Black and blue at Festival Les Plateaux

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One body inhabited by many: Calixto Neto’s oh!rage. Photo © Calixto Neto
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Choreographers Ana Pi and Calixto Neto take on ‘black dance’ on their own terms

The four-day Festival Les Plateaux at La Briqueterie in Vitry-sur-Seine, France, is a good opportunity to discover makers and companies from Europe and beyond. This year, two solo works caught our attention by bringing a vital question to the fore.

Where are black artists in the dance field? In the French arts sector the question has slowly arisen, in the light of a handful of dance pieces. Ana Pi and Calixto Neto’s solos, presented in the same bill during Les Plateaux, address this question. Both are performers and choreographers from Brazil who now live in France. Pi has worked and toured extensively with the duet François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea (Twerk, Le tour du monde des danses urbaines en 10 dates). Neto has worked for many years with Brazilian choreographer Lia Rodrigues and recently Volmir Cordeiro. Now both creators of their own work, they tackle representation of the bodies that are sorely absent from stage.

A ‘blue’ dance that speaks to a ‘black dance’: Ana Pi’s Noirblue

Ana Pi’s solo Noirblue plays on the concept of a ‘blue dance’ that speaks to ‘black dance’, danse noire. Dance performed by black dancers is historically the only form of dance that has an adjective stuck to it. Pi explains that in many cultures and languages there used to be no word for ‘blue’; when something cannot be named it doesn’t exist. On the other hand when the adjective ‘black’ is apposed to dance, the colour is made extra-visible. Noirblue navigates these notions of visibility and invisibility.

It starts with a blue glow in the distance. A figure stands with its feet up and head on the ground. The blue halo comes from the LED light-up shoes the figure is wearing, the only source of light in the darkness. They begin a mesmerising dance where the legs become tentacles, swaying and floating. When a brighter light is turned on, we discover Ana Pi’s body, her black skin and indigo costume. She sketches several dances, never insisting on a gesture but passing rapidly through corporealities. She alternately evokes Tuaregs, wrapped in indigo; an oceanic, ultramarine body; and a body on which exoticism, carnival, tribalism is often projected. Her body is also that of a young, black, flexible, woman, and a body in struggle. Pi embodies and softly conjures up these images, slipping into the movements as if trying different costumes which she discards immediately.

The blue she evokes is ‘feeling blue’, the blue of melancholia and sadness, Pi singing, ‘My only sin is in my skin,’ from Louis Armstrong’s ‘Black and Blue’. But it is also the bright and hopeful blue of Afrofuturism, where the voices of marginalised people will be heard, will have the right to exist. Shades of blue and shades of black dialogue in creating an imagery, peeling off layers of prejudices, cliches, projections and fantasies. Pi puts white round stickers all over her body naming a shade of blue for each – and asks us to pitch in. Turquoise, midnight blue, azure… in between royal and sky blue when she proclaims ‘colonial blue’ and the mood darkens. In French, bleu also means a bruise, and the image is irresistibly one of a body covered in colonial bruises. A black light is turned on so that the stickers glow in the dark. Pi is now a floating figure, the white dots moving around in a brief ghost-like dance. The black body is now dematerialised, totally absorbed into the surrounding darkness.

Blue Quote Mark

Ani Pi and Calixto Neto give us one body inhabited by many, taking space for those who cannot

Blue Quote Mark

For the first minutes of oh!rage, Calixto Neto’s first solo, his face is turned away from us. We grasp the colours of his costume first – green shorts, orange top, black sneakers – then the undulating movements of his bare arms. Waves reverberate throughout the whole body, conducted by a mobile spine. The hands, fluttering in a constant motion, start to speak. Two fingers momentarily form the shape of a gun. They search the thickness of the frizzy hair then make their way down to explore the mouth, fingers rummaging inside as if to extract a word. When finally he turns towards the audience, Neto’s fingers frame his distorted face, stretched like an elastic dough, shaping a forced smile. This is the first mask of many.

oh!rage has both ‘storm’ (ourage) and ‘rage’ contracted in the same word. Both are sources of great energy and power, both have tangible and ungraspable elements. Neto’s solo deals with powerful forces fiercely alive but invisible, or more precisely invisibled by context. His piece addresses the deconstruction of a colonial body and its representation in a Western context.

Neto draws a pink parallelepiped is drawn on the ground. The frame of the shape becomes a public space that the performer enters and exits, a projection space on which we are invited to read the many bodies he conjures there. Neto embodies figures and characters, summoning them by explosive sounds, jerky, precise and sudden moves. He criss-crosses the space to the sound of a repetitive rhythm he produces with his mouth. After each rhythm sequence a gesture, a grimace, an explosion of joy, a dance step reminiscent of samba or gwara gwara is called into the space. Neto is a beggar, a woman, a soldier. We are in the street, inside the carnival, inside madness, at the margins, at the heart of violence. He oscillates between figures of strength – flexed muscles, furrowed brows, military marches – and fragility, bodies weakened in their postures. All images last a few seconds. It is up to us to decrypt and reflect on these bursts of dance.

Ani Pi and Calixto Neto give us one body inhabited by many, taking space for those who cannot. ‘Peripheral dances’ blooming in the margins, in contrast with those who occupy the centre, is a point of great interest in both works, enticing the audience to dig deeper within the field of contemporary dance. Choreographically, both works are fascinating, and both have waves that ripple out from the performance. 

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Festival Les Plateaux at La Briqueterie in Vitry-sur-Seine, France. 28/09/2018
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Choreography, dramaturgy, costumes and objects, interpretation: Ana Pi
Original soundtrack: Jideh High Elements
Lights: Jean-Marc Ségalen
Preparations for this dance with Taata Mutá Imê, Samuel Mwamé, BesreKè Ahou, Ousmane Baba Sy
Production: Ana Pi & Météores | Plateforme chorégraphique
Co-productions & partners: Théâtre de Vanves, Centre National de la Danse, Das Plateau aux Ulis – Espace culturel Boris Vian, ROSA ass. 1901, Festival Circular – Vila do Conde – Portugal.
Upcoming: Lille, Festival Latitudes Contemporaines: 14–15 juin 2019

Choreography and performance: Calixto Neto
Lighting design: Eduardo Abdala
Sound creation: Charlotte Boisselier
External views: Carolina Campos, Isabela Fernandes Santana, Marcelo Sena
First performed on 18 June 2018 at CN D Centre national de la danse.
Executive production by Météores
Co-produced by CN D Centre national de la danse, La Place de la Danse – CDCN Toulouse / Occitanie

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