Premiering her choreography Bird Dog during the online CaDance festival on 31 January, Marina Mascarell swiftly substituted the holy theatre for the screen to stage four dancers based in four different countries. Thousands of miles apart, the real-time urban choreography Bird Dog enrolled across three continents, while being watched via live stream by spectators locked in their homes.
Apart from her presence in The Hague with performances such as Three Times Rebel (CaDance, 2017) and A Hefty flood (NDT, 2018), choreographer Marina Mascarell is deeply embedded within the international field, travelling between theatres in Sweden and Taiwan and production houses such as Korzo (The Hague) and Mercat de les Flors (Barcelona) to develop and present her work. Hopefully, this practice, professed by more contemporary choreographers and dancers, has only been brought to a temporary halt by the many restrictions and closed borders imposed by governments to ban the Corona virus.
Nina Botkay in Lissabon
The live stream of Bird Dog reveals a screen, split in four with dancers Nina Botkay in Portugal, Yasutake Shimaji in Tokyo, Shamel Pitts in New York and Spencer Dickhaus in The Hague. Dressed in red, coloring the grey urban environment, at first they find themselves on a traffic island, a pavement, a cycle path and on the edge of a parking lot. Moving, they each approach the camera, as if to come closer to the audience. The sound of traffic and barking dogs is followed by the voice of a man singing, building up to a choir. Slowly the pace of the moving dancers takes on a rhythm. Striking from the start is the similarity in the urban landscapes, the concrete of roads, the tall buildings – huge blocks in the background – and throughout the show all sorts of fences and graffiti.
The next hour – 3 pm Central European Time, a morning in New York and the nighttime darkness of Tokyo, the four dancers move through their environment. A landscape carefully analysed with Mascarell through Zoom, this prepared path leads them into a collective experience during which they immerse themselves in the areas they move through.
How do people usually move through the city? Often with a clear goal, going from A to B. Or less purposeful perhaps, for a short stroll. Beyond these imprinted structures, fixed routes we take to work and other activities, Mascarell and her dancers are clearly taking a different approach. In Bird Dog, instead of focussing on the visual to guide them on their way, the dancers connect to their environment with all their senses; sniffing, touching, and from time to time even biting a little twig. Between the concrete and stones, weeds are finding their way to grow and colour the space with their clear green. Every item or obstacle is researched, be it a wall along which fingers trace the mortar in between the flushes, or a bicycle stand: the staple-shaped Dutch version or a metal circle carrying the logo of New York City.
Bird Dog is as much a contemporary dance parcours as it is classic choreography, considering the way Marina Mascarell has structured the dancers’ movements leading to duets and groups parts, not exactly time synced, but enough to convey a sense of togetherness despite their distant presences. The occasional solo takes up a full screen. Counterpointing the visual aspects of the largely similar environments is the eclectic choice of songs and sounds, with the joyful Everly Brothers revealing the title of the piece at the end.
In Bird Dog the lack of physical intimacy that characterizes our days, and which haunts the public domain, is directed towards space itself by tightening the dancers’ relationships with their surroundings, diving deeply into the cities’ capillaries.
Tuning into this reality brings a sense of recognition as a spectator. We have become much more aware of our surroundings these days, moving along the same paths again and again, sensing for details in our limited daily lives. To overcome these limitations, Mascarell uses the screen as a stage on which her dancers can perform together today, in a communal attempt of relating to the city. Tuning right into reality.
Featured image: Shamell Pitts in New York