Marie Chouinards sexually charged debut programme sees dancers locked up like zoo animals then unleashed, while Vladimir Putin is taunted with whips and made to dance with a Nubian Queen
A naked woman punches her body repeatedly against a wall, her expression hidden by the dark fall of hair covering her face. A pale, serious youth dances a solitary path through a crowd of onlookers, his limbs floating, warping and buckling to low-level electronic music. A middle-aged man in a knitted cap and lifeguards jacket sweeps the floor, talking all the while about the urge to cleanse his life.
There is nothing new about visual art that blurs into performance, or dance that verges on installation, but at Venice this year the question of categories feels interestingly loaded. Daina Ashbees Unrelated and Benot Lachambres Lifeguard are the first and third events described above, yet while they feature in the programme that has been put together by the dance biennales new artistic director, Marie Chouinard, neither work embraces traditional modes of choreography. The dreamy street-dance solo, meanwhile, comes from Anne Imhofs Faust, a five-hour event that is drawing the largest crowds at the art biennale and whose language is heavily predicated on dance.
The agency of the body is a key theme of Faust, often because its cast are forced into situations of unsettling passivity. Imhof has transformed the interior of the German pavilion into glass chambers within which individuals or small groups of performers are confined. As we walk past or even above them, we can observe these young men and women engaged in their own variously listless, hostile or sexual activities, as if they were laboratory specimens or animals in a zoo.
Those glass walls and ceilings start to feel like an absolute divide, turning us into voyeurs and the performers into objects even when theyre exhibiting signs of threatening behaviour. It comes as a shocking reversal of power when the performers are periodically let out of their cells and allowed to dance among us, taking sudden command of the space and asserting their primacy over our awkward, self-conscious bodies.
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