Blasphemy Rhapsody – We Are The People (Cinematografico)

On 27 March, ICK Amsterdam premiered the film Blasphemy Rhapsody – We Are The People (Cinematografico) as an online special during Cinedans Fest. The film, directed by Gouden Kalf winner Arno Dierickx, is intended as a standalone work to complement the live show that is still to premiere as soon as COVID-restrictions will allow it. The sum of choreography and cinematography is a very dense Gesammtkunstwerk that leaves the senses reeling.

The opening is immediately captivating. To the sound of soft bells, the camera scans the empty chairs in the auditorium (filming took place in ITA’s Rabozaal). As the eye travels longingly across the rows of untaken seats, the deep, gravelly voice of Iggy Pop begins to intone a spoken word piece, declaring “We are the people / who do not know how to die / peacefully / and at ease” – his version of a fifty-year old Lou Reed poem. The camera lands on six pairs of dancers’ feet clad in white socks, with bells around the ankles. Traveling upward, the dancer’s eyes come into focus, finding each other across the distance. And the feet begin the irresistibly upbeat sideways kicks of a Charleston – to Daft Punk’s Around the World. Suddenly, a sinister masked figure appears – Emio Greco in his role as morbid joker. With a decisive flick of his handkerchief, he makes the dancers circle him, chanting and hopping.

There’s a sweeping statement in those opening moments – the piece deals with us, humans, in our current situation, relegated to the role of potential patients, reacquainted with our very real mortality by an unknown virus in our midst. It deals with artists who are having to forego their live confrontation with a responsive audience. And who are still creating, dancing anyway, but with an increasing touch of frenzy like those Charleston dancers in their dance marathons or indeed like possessed dancers of the Southern Italian folk dance Pizzica, expelling the poison from a spider’s bite through dance and trance. 

How to dance, and how to present dance in this new reality? Film maker Dierickx, director of photography Josje van Erkel and editors Kim Meuwissen and Laura Helbing have incorporated a whole gamut of filmmaking techniques. The masked figure appears as if out of nowhere, dancers are doubled and mirrored by overlays and split screens, the point of view is switched to a dancer’s gaze or a worm’s eye view. The filter shifts from blue to grey and when the masked figure inflicts his spider bite there is red; red cross on white chest, red fingernails. The images move from crisp and highly defined to grainy, a sequence is in negative, another in saturated colours.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack compiled by Pieter C. Scholten shifts with each scene, incorporating folk, classic and contemporary in the same eclectic – blasphemous? – mix as described in the opening scenes, building to an insistent drone. The intensity of the dancing, characterised by stomping feet, fighting stances from martial arts, spider arms and circling bodies, oscillates between life-affirming optimism and a harried surrender. Reflective of the moodswings that have come with each lockdown and subsequent itinerary to lead us back to ‘normal’.Dance, an art of proximity and shared space, time and breath, has moved to the screen. Nobody can say for sure for how long. But it makes for a denser art form here, where the two-dimensionality is packed with all the dimensions of the two constituent parts. It leaves less room to breathe. Within the space of 45 minutes, the film accelerates toward its final heartbeat in a plethora of movement, sound and imagery. It is like someone’s dying breath. It leaves the senses reeling.