Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas, Idiot-Syncrasy


Favourite jumper: Igor & Moreno, Idiot-Syncrasy

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Igor Urzelai (left) and Moreno Solinas, Idiot-Syncrasy. Photo: Alicia Clarke
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Caring but not careful – who knew an hour of jumping up and down would touch so many people in so many ways?

At a one-night-only showing to celebrate the 100th performance of Igor and Moreno’s Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place, London, I feel like a stranger at a home game who has never seen a football. The bar is full of people remembering the first time they’d watched the show, or who are here because they missed it somewhere else. First performed in 2013 at The Place, where Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas have been associate artists since 2011, Idiot-Syncrasy has since toured to more than 10 countries across Europe, as well as further afield to the USA, South Korea, Japan, Chile, Mexico and Zimbabwe. Tonight’s performance, to continue the football metaphor, feels like an ‘It’s coming home!’ moment for the audience – and I am eager to find out what the buzz is about.

Here’s what I see. In a white space, the two men, dressed simply in jeans and jackets, begin by singing, with startling tunefulness, a traditional Sardinian song (Moreno is Sardinian; Igor, Basque). They begin to jump up and down. They remove their clothes, jumping up and down. They move across the stage, jumping up and down. They pour each other a drink, jumping up and down. They pour audience members drinks, jumping up and down. They traverse the audience itself, still jumping up and down. The audience gets so used to the joke – and there is a strong element of humour – that when the movement starts to include, seemingly as a cautious experiment, spins, then spiralling limbs, darker lighting, a rumbling sound from the speakers, a tempestuous agitation to the previously simple bounces, we don’t realise how much the energy has changed, and how deeply we have invested in the process.

It is precisely the intensity of this investment that makes the work feel so fresh and unexpected. The empathy and engagement it elicits still feel profound.

Opening up a channel with the audience: Igor & Moreno’s Idiot-Syncrasy

‘I think the repetitive elements and the whiteness of the space were part of a wave,’ says Moreno when I meet the pair a couple of days later, but it’s another quality that he identifies as key: vulnerability. They put themselves in a place of fragility to create a place of empathy for the audience. ‘I’m not looking for an experience as a performer,’ he explains. ‘It’s about opening up a channel with the audience.’

Indeed, the sense of risk inherent in so much jumping, and performing action while jumping – however unfazed the two performers seem to be – carries with it a strong sense of vulnerability. In a stripped-back piece focusing on detail and diversion, even the act of pouring a drink into a shot glass becomes imbued with a breathless tension. It is testament to the performers’ control over such tension that Igor bouncing off stage and returning, triumphant, with four more bottles for the audience, elicits a spontaneous cheer. At its heart, Idiot-syncrasy is a remarkably kind work: the performers appear to care for, and be interested in, their audience, and in return the audience summon a great deal of care, sympathy and engagement.

‘Care is an element we work with,’ Igor adds. ‘Not being careful, but caring. We have to invite people into a vulnerable place without putting ourselves in a dangerous place.’

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the gracefully managed switch from humorous and direct to a complex, darker and more intimate mood. After the audience has grown so used to the hopping and bobbing, the introduction of spins, sweeping arms and legs swinging through interrupted lines feels surprisingly intense. Having set up the ground rules, Igor and Moreno break them, bringing their audience with them into an exploration of synthesis and attachment that has a quality of subversion.

‘People come to watch the piece for different reasons. Every audience member will bring their own baggage. It’s a mirror for people who are watching.’ They see a lot of value in this – it allows for more possibilities, for a freer emotional and intellectual reaction. Many people come away feeling they have watched a piece ‘about’ a romantic relationship. Critic Nicholas Minns saw the ‘effort and grind of generations in [the Basque region and Sardinia] to achieve and maintain their goal of political autonomy’. Our editor Sanjoy Roy was reminded of being a fraternal twin, a dual relationship that’s both given and filled with minute-by-minute negotiation. Me? I felt I had watched the dance equivalent of Sheila Heti’s question How Should a Person Be?, as two men cut from very similar cloth offered versions of selfhood and ways of being before turning towards one another to share their similarities.

Was it hard to move on from such a popular piece? They were keen not to make Idiot-Syncrasy all over again: there is, Igor explains, an important different between developing their own language and understanding their own interests and practice, and simply repeating what they know works. Their subsequent works both used a strong element of repetition, but A Room for All Our Tomorrows (2015) saw them yelling non-stop for the first 20 minutes, while their 2017 quartet Andante explored synaesthesia between sound, sight and smell. Currently they are creating their next piece, with the working title Can’t – a solo for another dancer, which will have its initial showcase in early 2019.

In the meantime, Idiot-Syncrasy continues jumping. ‘We’re interested in performing it, but we’re not going crazy overbooking it!’ says Igor. ‘It’s still a challenge and it’s still relevant. What we were trying to say then, we’re still trying to say now.’

‘I don’t think we would have made it as we are now, but it is still important to us,’ says Moreno. ‘Some older work can feel like it was made by a different person, but not this.’ In a rapidly changing world filled with confusion, uncertainty and distrust in the figures we have elected to care for us, it is a quiet relief that such a resonant piece about care continues to open that direct line of communication between Igor, Moreno and us. 

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17.11.2018: Idiot-Syncrasy, Scène Nationale, Reims, France
21-23.11.2018: A Room For All Our Tomorrows, Dansehallerne, Copenhagen, Denmark
19-21.01.2019: Andante, Théâtre des Abbesses/Theatre de la Ville, Paris, France
31.01–02.02.2019: Idiot-Syncrasy, Teatros del Canal, Madrid, Spain
29.03.2019: work-in-progress of CAN’T, Siobhan Davies Studios, London, UK
29.03.2019: Idiot-Syncrasy, Pôle Sud, Strasbourg, France
31.03.2018: A Room For All Our Tomorrows, Rassegna Romagna Mia/Teatro Degli Atti, Rimini, Italy

See Igor and Moreno’s calendar for the full touring schedule

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