Sweet like a chocolate

Today, 19 December, some of us lucky ones who are free at 12.30, get to have a lunch Sweet like a chocolate. The dance piece which plays at Theatre Bellevue as part of their Bellevue Lunchtheater series, is Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten’s re-working of their research project Double Points: Hell, originally premiered in 2005. The sweetness, however, leaves a bitter aftertaste.

As we take our seats in the audience, we see all the original ingredients from 2005 gathered: a figure clad in black, a woman with a short black-haired wig, three spot lights on stage. The black shadow (Victor Callens) starts to move, observed from a balcony above by a female figure (Maria Ribas). She comes down to the stage, and kicks off the duet by holding a bow and aiming it at the shadow.

Going back and forth between partnership and rivalry, losing the way between love and hate, despair and confusion, the dancers are subject to a deluge of changing emotions and twists and turns in their relationship. Among all the schizophrenic searching for identity and relational clarity, the performance is sprinkled with sexual innuendos. A sensual manipulation that turns into a rougher game leaves us wondering if we are watching a lovers’ quarrel, or perhaps a fetish game. The tragi-comic atmosphere underlines the ambiguity of their relationship.

The “duet for one” is an impressive technical display. All the elements that make for a good piece are present. A beautiful stage design, incredible dancers, bombastic classical music: the overall crafted aesthetic experience that often characterizes the works of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten. Somehow, the combination of dramatic classical music (here, for instance, Beethoven’s Fifth), the stylistic and recognizable vocabulary and the iconic see-through, ethereal dresses Clifford Portier never fails to deliver, still seem to work in 2019.

Photos: Alwin Poiana

Possibly because each element is executed to it fullest potential, putting them all together can’t go too wrong. But what happens when this package that once triumphed, is “reworked” into todays’ time? Can you really “update” a performance just by surfing the wave of what is already happening around it?

Maria Ribas and Victor Callens deliver an impeccable performance, each complementing each other beautifully, without compromising their individuality and authenticity in movements or personality. I was tempted to allow myself to be satiated by the feast of virtuosity unfolding in front of me.

In an interview with the two makers by Theater Bellevue, P.C. Scholten mentions how in these times of the #metoo movement, the piece takes on a different meaning, and that the audience interprets it more politically. But is a political reception enough? Shouldn’t the political dimension be addressed by the creators themselves?

Despite the focus being on the female, the attempt to make it “about her”, the male gaze is still quite tangible. We are not sure if she is empowered or submissive to the experience, despite the work finishing with a brilliant solo by Ribas. Without wanting to take away from the excellence of some parts and the undeniable beauty of both dancers, I would like to push the discussion a little further than this injection of dexterity.

The choreographers? Men. The shadow? A man, too. Yet again a dance piece resorts to the archetype of the Man dictating the rules or even the Woman being allowed to shine thanks to a Man.

Female sexuality presented from the point of view of men (through a woman) is problematic. A piece that vastly relies on and indulges in the beauty of the dancers, fails to connect with the times in its appropriation of an urgent issue for the sake of “political dialogue”. If these topics are tackled, they ought to be treated and researched thoroughly, not used as a side note or taken advantage of just to add a political layer to a work of art. The dance field suffers enormously from gender disparities and institutional sexism. It is high time we leave the anecdotical plane and move beyond the privileged discourse of staying on the surface.

Seen: December 19, 2019, Theater Bellevue, Amsterdam. https://www.ickamsterdam.com/en/

Choreography: Emio Greco | Pieter C. Scholten |dance: Maria Ribas & Victor Callens | lighting design: Henk Danner | costume design: : Clifford Portier | production:  ICK Amsterdam.