CB: What do you think is the core idea behind Laia Santanach’s revisitation?
JR: Santanach is a seasoned contemporary performer, versed in everything to do with flow, spiralling movements and the expression of freedom and risk through improvisation. In Aèr she took it upon herself to look into something very different: the contrapàs, a ceremonial Catalan ronde, originally intricate and two-dimensional, traditionally danced by men on specific dates in public places. I think the tension between both dimensions is the spark that holds it all together…
It’s all in the music, really. That’s where the tension happens in the first place. I spoke with Laia afterwards, and she told me the musician-performer Carles Martorell did research on the structures and rhythms of the original contrapàs. His soundscore, partially created in situ by means of a last-generation electric guitar, proves paramount to Àer’s success, providing a continuous base of binary and ternary phrases, a clear rhythmic link to the folkloric score that is always present.
CB: But it’s not only in the music that we find a link. It’s not just contemporary choreography to a score inspired by a folkloric theme. Physically, certainly in the first section, the performers embody a form of perpetuum walk holding the energetic field in check, in a ceremonial tempo that very much relates to the religious background of the piece…
JR: Exactly. The small duets and individual bursts of movement happening in the first section spring out of that energetic field without upheaving it, proposing new dynamic games with gravity that paradoxically make the piece lighter. (Aèr means ‘air’ in medieval Catalan.) This dancing on the threshold, projecting contemporary practices without cancelling the ritualistic dimension of the ancient form, kept me interested the whole time.
CB: This tension is even more apparent in the final part of the piece.
JR: I actually got the chills for a moment! While the musician starts to improvise melodically, yet never losing the rhythmic structure, the dancers hold their (and our) ground. We get to see an actual physical exploration of the original steps and codes, it’s the contrapàs revisited. Putting this at the end was as efficient as it was conventional. In this, Aèr became an exercise of old-fashioned-contemporary choreographic weaving, a bit resembling the studies by GN|MC [Guy Nader & Maria Campos] on forms such as the pendulum or the circle.
CB: And the thing is that this climactic, physical build-up comes after a more static, quite long section where images – compositions emulating religious paintings, maybe? – accommodate us in a very different way of looking at the piece…
JR: More theatrical, you mean?
CB: Political, I’d say. Laia has said at some point she changed the male/female distribution in her embodying of these images, inspired by Eli Rekallah’s In a Parallel Universe project.
JR: But this is decoded in a narrative way. The contrast between the enigma these images pose to the mind and the purely physical enjoyment of the ending, where the dynamics of the contrapàs are turned into a rave, was a big plus for me.
Janet Novás and Mercedes Peón: Mercedes máis eu
Mercedes Peón is one of Galicia´s most renowned singers. She researched Galician folk for years, wandering from one small village to the next, looking for orally transmitted songs and sounds of old, which she then taught to others. In 2000, she broke internationally with the album Isué, where she gave a personal interpretation to the results of her life-long quest. Janet Novás, a younger Galician contemporary dancer with a growing international profile and a strong interest in constantly questioning the raisons d’être of her own movement, led this project. Mercedes máis eu (Mercedes and I) gathers the sediment of several encounters where, through improvisation, they looked at the particular relationships between the dance of one and the music of the other, both grounded in the same heritage.