Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Masculine and Feminine

Gareth K Vile generally enjoys being confused, with reservations.EVENT REVIEW BY GARETH K VILE.

Paulo Ribero is a regular presence at New Territories and his work, which hesitates between dance and drama, is a splendid example of the European aesthetic that this festival celebrates. Inspired by the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, and consisting of two complementary pieces, Masculine and Feminine attempts to filter Pessoa’s words through gender.

The two shows share a gentle pace, a good-humoured ramble that moves between speech and dance, with fragments of poetry suddenly emerging, and the intensity ramped up by dramatic lighting. As usual, Tramway is the perfect venue: small enough to be intimate and allow a direct connection between audience and performers, yet large enough for the action to spread out and relax.

Masculine - four men, music by Frank Zappa, a table-top adorned with cut-up pornography and a football - is thematically clearer. Using the building blocks of male bonding, sport and sex, the company meditate lazily on the fact of being male. Conversations are a series of interrupted monologues, and the great show given to acts of physical prowess - framed by an aesthetic that recalls a 1970s television variety show - is as boastful as it is impressive.

As the programme note suggests for Feminine, high heels replace the football and the dance is more sensuous and less comic. The connection between the four dancers and one actress is tight and comfortable, as the actress longs to become a dancer and the early chat is replaced by a series of technically powerful dances. Femininity is perceived in broad strokes - make up, weight issues, glamour and community, with a sense of humour and warmth.

These generalisations - perhaps even the very division of the shows - do ignore some subtleties of the relationship between the sexes and the idiosyncrasies of each individual. Ribeiro uses the poetry to connect the works, but the shared speech about how “monotonising life to avoid monotony” has the same resonance in both works - that of a rather patronising author trying to praise the ordinary man. Only when the dancers discuss their own dancing does a slightly more personal angle reveal itself.

The contradiction, perhaps deliberately built into the work, is in the sophistication of the art and the stereotypical material. This is, both technically and theatrically, a complex and layered choreography: it grapples with some grand themes through obvious signifiers. That it draws no clear conclusions, eschewing a natural conclusive finale for a fade into the dark, suggests that even the simplest symbols of masculinity and femininity are capable of yielding depth and nuance.

This can be frustrating, while it is also thought-provoking and careful. Companhia Paulo Ribeiro might leave the audience in doubt, but they propose questions - not just about gender but the way that it is constructed.

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