The short videos from Synetic on this sixth day of content give us three worlds and stories through the language of dance.
In classical ballet’s repertoire there is no greater or more physically demanding role than the dual swan role of Odette-Odile. Italian ballet dancer Valentina Palladino has used as her inspiration pieces of the Swan Lake story and its physical vocabulary to share her passion and tell a tale originally from Boccaccio. In her video, the line of a leg or port de bras is everything, and limbs seem to dissolve into feathers.
Palladino plays three roles, upping the challenge in Swan Lake, as it were. The video cuts back and forth between the three characters of the story: the bird (in Boccaccio, it’s a hawk), the poor hawker, and a human lover with whom the man is reunited.
Wisely, she chose to pluck mostly feathers from Boccaccio’s story, as the original tale seemed a little far-fetched with a change of heart by a lovely but selfish woman who cherished the gifts but not the heart of a young man who spends his entire fortune on her until forced to retire to the country with only falconry to pass the time. (Spoiler alert, he shoots his favorite and only bird.)
This is where Palladino picks up the story, bringing focus to the bird’s perspective as it lives in nature, wild and free. Down to the exotic eye make up and tutu, Palladino’s dance freely borrows from the world of Swan Lake and also Pavlova’s “Dying Swan” dance. The camera keeps the framed action presentational to suit the art form. Palladino chose excerpts from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to underscore her work and shoots the entire piece in nature.
Janine Baumgardner is another dancer who has found, in Synetic Theater, a synthesis of dance and theatrical storytelling that suits her creative talents. She has managed to stitch together dancework in the Washington area not only with Synetic (since 2013) but with other local companies. This breaks the common understanding of people discussing dance in the Washington area – “You can get local actors here but for dancers you have to go to New York,” and likewise advice to dancers for decades, “If you want a ‘real’ career in dance you have to go to New York.”
Baumgardner takes as a springboard to her work a tale from The Decameron (Day 4, Story 5) about a woman (after her lover is murdered by her brothers,) who becomes so distraught she finds his body, decapitates him, and carries the head back home to plant it in a basil pot. Baumgardner transfers the grizzly medieval melodrama to a contemporary suburban apartment setting, complete with beige rug and tidy patio-balcony (suitable for a little light gardening in pots.) She retains the essential relationship of woman with dead lover as potted basil plant. This takes some courage and threatens at times to pitch the macabre into the absurd. Baumgardner is determined not to go down that road.
She mixes contemporary dance with an introductory setup of the story done in silhouette. In one moment flinging herself down on the carpet then lifting herself up in a Martha Graham contraction, then whirling around the coffee table, she creates a picture of a woman both free to express her inner reality and one becoming unglued because she lives isolated in her fantasy world. Baumgardner also incorporates realistic physical action with objects in close and medium shots to ground the work for the small screen, such as putting her hands in the dirt to work in the basil or pouring water from her Brita filter into a glass measuring-cup.
If Palladino has used all external shots to create a world of nature where wild things live (and dream) in great expanses, Baumgardner’s sterile interior feels as if the live creature is battering in a cage to get out.
The third in this trio of works bears the somewhat misleading name of “Leeks, Onions, and Pork Fat,” Dan Istrate has given us a tale of a lonely man whose daily routines are interrupted by two beautiful younger women. He sets up the routines, with the aid of his cat who plays a lonely bachelor’s feline quite purr-fectly. There are establishing scenes reminiscent of several of Baumgardner’s and several other Synetic short videos that have handled the subject of isolated living in the time of Covid. Istrate’s bachelor world is the grittiest of these and honestly shows the artist’s stripped-down industrial home-loft.
Here, as in the other two videos today, the real texturizing of the action comes in the language of dance. Istrate is a tango dancer. He introduces tango music and dance first in simple runs up and down stairs. It tells us that, all alone, the man tries to break the monotony and emptiness of his life and the ugly institutional halls of his low-rent building by transporting himself through the rhythms and grace of dance.
He brings tango back in later after he watches and then participates in work-out sessions with two decidedly in-shape, leggy women in the latest fitness gear. The women, played by Stephanie Yezek Jolivet and Francesca Jandasek, are also quite purr-fect – and in their shapeliness and vacuous self-absorption, they are indeed those girls, filling their lives with spin classes, gym sessions and aerial ballet routines. Their triangulation in “work-out” scenes may be teases but as I might imagine more sweaty than sexy.
When Istrate moves into a tango, we finally get human interaction and the luscious language of the dance where every wrapping of a woman’s leg around his or the lightest shift of pressure of a man’s hand on a woman’s back is communication of the intimate and highest order. Suddenly, the tall blonde is listening to his cues, and he moves into her body and allows her to move around him, both enjoying the tactile sensation, as did his cat on greeting him. I wondered in this video who was teaching and transforming whom.
The three videos of Day 6 may not be the most polished technically or ambitious of cinematic forms, but I begin to see a link amongst the videos in today’s grouping. These three works not only incorporate dance as the dominant language but begin to ask the deeper questions: how can dance express our longing to communicate, and how does this longing become naked and essential to our survival during a time of a pandemic when every precious ‘body’ is at risk to infect or be infected.
Day 6 of Synetic Theater’s The Decameron debuted July 15, 2020.
Tickets to watch The Decameron start at just $10 for the entire series and are available now.
DCTS reviews The Decameron
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