The Square Recordings

The first edition of Scapino Ballet’s The Square was one of the very first casualties of corona, in March 2020. But from its ashes something fresh and fruitful has arisen: The Square Recordings, a series of dance films available via the Scapino Ballet website. On 21 April Justin de Jager kicked things off with Carried Alive, followed on 22 April by What Remains by Alba Castillo.

The Square is the successor to TWOOLS, a yearly programme focusing on new works by exciting young choreographers. Corona has placed the live version on a back burner, but The Square Recordings prove to be a very worthwhile placeholder. The name may be a bit misleading however. Rather than featuring regular dance registrations, The Square Recordings are more like self-contained dance films. These have been recorded in advance, but during the livestream they are accompanied by short interviews with the choreographers and live Q&A’s. The dance films themselves remain available afterwards on demand through the site.

Justin de Jager and Alba Castilla were working on the first live edition of The Square when it was postponed in 2020, but their works were presented live in September of that year during The Blend at the Van Nellefabriek.

In his introduction to the film version of Carried Alive, 23 year-old choreographer Justin de Jager talks about his particular style: threading, a subdivision of breakdance. At its core, it is about connecting two different body parts, which creates an opening for another body part to move through. De Jager illustrates it in a short introductory duet with Scapino dancer Filip Wagrodzki, who is also dancing in the main event. Created almost on the spot (in about two and a half hours), it is a great showcase for his work: fluid, organic, and completely in the moment. Interestingly, in the dance film itself, filmed at exhibition centre Garage Rotterdam, a good deal of the fluidity and unpredictability is lost. Still, it is beautiful to look at. Six dancers – three male, three female – in black dungarees serenely move around and through each other in the exhibition space. In different scenes the camera is placed at different angles. Where the duet felt playful and intimate, Carried Alive feels more detached, more like a finely calibrated arts installation.

The Square-chor Alba Castillo-Foto Bas Czerwinski
What Remains | choreography: Alba Castillo | photo: Bas Czerwinski

While De Jager likes to begin with just the movement, Alba Castillo started her rehearsals for What Remains from a clear idea: the loss of innocence. Six dancers are trying to recapture that carefree feeling of their childhood, before the weight of the grown-up world came crashing down. Castillo makes use of very simple yet very potent props, like bunny masks and a very tiny kite. The most striking image is a tent, like the ones children build from a blanket and a couple of chairs. This tent slowly snakes across the floor. Sometimes a dancer is left in its wake, at other times a dancer is welcomed back into its fold, as if it were one giant security blanket. Once outside, the dancers try to find their footing, desperately grasping at each other for support. What Remains is a poetic and wistful piece, longingly looking back at an innocence that can never be reclaimed.

Castillo and film director Justin Bekker (whose short dance film, All you have to do is wonder, is available for free on the website) make great use of the camera. Sometimes it is even as if the camera in itself is a character, looking out from inside the tent. Unfortunately, Castillo herself wasn’t able to attend the Q&A, but Bonnie Doets proved to be a thoughtful stand-in. For this edition of The Square Recordings Doets functioned as the ballet master, but she returned as a dancer for the third session, Yantra (premiere: 3 June) by Shailesh Bahoran, a stylish and intense black and white duet with Mischa van Leeuwen. 10 June saw the premiere of the fourth session, Fall of a sparrow by Joost Vrouenraets, which will be followed by The end does not see by Borna Babić (17 June).

The Square Recordings

Photos: Bas Czerwinski