Venice Biennale: Putin has a red-hot date as dance cedes to orgasmic quiverings and S& M taboo

Marie Chouinards sexually billed debut curriculum pictures dancers locked up like zoo animals then unleashed, while Vladimir Putin is razzed with whips and made to dance with a Nubian Queen

A naked maiden pierces her body frequently against a wall, her show obscured by the dark descend of “hairs-breadth” dealing her appearance. A sallow, serious youth dances a lonely route through a gang of spectators, his limbs swim, warping and fastening to low-level electronic music. A middle-aged guy in a knitted cap and lifeguards coat cleans the storey, talking all the while about the advise to purify his life.

There is nothing new about visual prowes that blurs into performance, or dance that verges on station, but at Venice this year issues of categories appears interestingly loaded. Daina Ashbees Unrelated and Benot Lachambres Lifeguard are the first and third phenomena described above, hitherto while they feature in the programme that has been put together by the dance biennales new artistic head, Marie Chouinard, neither drive espouses traditional modes of choreography. The dreamy street-dance solo, meanwhile, comes from Anne Imhofs Faust, a five-hour occasion that is depicting the largest audience at the artwork biennale and whose language is heavily predicated on dance.

The agency of the body is a key topic of Faust, often because its cast are forced into situations of unsettling passivity. Imhof has transformed the interior of the German pavilion into glass assemblies within which private individuals or a small number of performers are restricted. As we go past or even above them, we can observe these young men and women engaged in their own variously listless, hostile or sex activities, as if they were laboratory samples or swine in a zoo.

Those glass walls and ceilings start to feel like an absolute divide, turning us into voyeurs and the musicians into objects even when theyre exhibiting signalings of menacing action. It comes as a outraging change of dominance when the performers are periodically let out of their cells and allowed to dance among us, taking abrupt bid of the opening and holding their supremacy over our tricky, self-conscious bodies.

Dreamy street dance Anne Imhofs five-hour Faust. Image: David Levene for the Guardian

The body as objective, as weapon, as provocation and sensual canvas are themes that occupy other artists showing in this years dance biennale. James Richards movie What Dilutes the Flesh Is the Flesh Itself is a disturbing, claustrophobic bit in which dreamily eroticised footage of wrestlers is juxtaposed with dancing skeletons and images of bodies misrepresented by tattoos, genital pierces and the ritualised trappings of S& M.

Richards blankets their own bodies with so much infatuation, projection and flair that its a breath of fresh air to watch Mark Bradfords mesmerising short video that evidences, on a slowly diminish loop, a black teen stepping down an inner-city street, his easy loping pace interspersed by a confident bounce, a sudden switch of the psyche. The son is caught at a few moments of uncontested, easy owned of his person and wall street around him. He is flukily beautiful and alive, even if the future he ambles towards is unknown.

There are also films of mass in the dance curriculum although typically they come with far fewer curators memoes and far less glossy publicity fabric. Dance and artwork may crash in interesting roads at Venice, but there is never any doubts concerning which of the two takes precedence in terms of coin, politics and profile.

But considered on its own, away from the razzle of the art biennale, Chouinards debut dance programme is a thoughtful take over the current background. Her own choreographic flavours are evident in the predominant filament of works with a strong conceptual construction, led by a resuscitation of the 1998 solo with which Xavier Le Roy became established as one of the leaders of the non-dance gesture in France.

The Self Unfinished is an outlandishly strange, rigorous and clever work in which the everyday formations and functions of the body are investigated and inverted. The lone dancer( Joo dos Santos Martins) starts out in robotic mode, vocalising a grind, sobbing accompaniment for himself as his mas intersects the stage in rigidly enunciated blips. With his shirt covering his face he turns into a kind of insect: offset upside down and walking on his hands, his skinny legs and paws waving with a baffling expressiveness.

Eventually, deprived of its invests, Dos Santos Martins mas undergoes even more radical changes scrunched into a apparently random configuration of muscle, skin and bone, or twisted into shapes that resemble a chicken or an alien. It should come as no surprise that Le Roy started out as a microbiologist theres a puckish imagery at work in The Self Unfinished, but too the viciously unflinching logic of a scientist.

Twinned gentility Mathilde Monnier and La Ribots Gustavia. Photo: Marc Coudrais

The other large strand in Chouinards programme is a celebration of female choreography. There are toils by Louise Lecavalier and Lucinda Childs recipient of the 2017 Golden Lion award and the carnival shuts with an excellently varied evening from Robyn Orlyn, Mathilde Monnier and La Ribot.

Orlyn generates salty, transgressive, colourful dance provocations in which she tackles corruption and repression in her native South africans but likewise celebrates the nations culture and its artists. In And So You Appreciate Orlyn leaves the stage over to Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza, a performer of physical luxury and unconscionable charisma who voyages through this piece like a glorious flagship for the LGBT community.

To the grandly hallowed choruses of Mozarts Requiem, Khoza gradually dispossesses himself of a grey shroud and starts on a series of bully, mournful, scandalizing and enchanting operations. He snacks on a bowl of oranges, his near-naked torso rapt in orgasmic quiverings of thrill as juice runs over his flesh. When he tells two gathering members on theatre to cleanse him down, the collapse of the performer-spectator divide is far more deviant than anything in Imhofs Faust. But beyond the rampant parade, the divulge of inhibition, there are political letters in this piece.

For one part, Khoza lovingly dresses up as a Nubian monarch preparing for a red-hot appointment with Vladimir Putin, whose dancing epitome appears on a screen. As Khoza undulates gracefully in front of an awkwardly jigging Putin, he makes scorning tauntings about the presidents homophobia. More affecting, however, is his segue into a gravely traditional solo, which he play-act with two ceremonial scourges that he coils in the air around him as he moves. How much better it is, Khoza says to the trapped image of Putin, to be able to dance with your weapons than kill with them.

The last-place contest in the celebration is a superb doubled deed of French choreographer and dance Mathilde Monnier and Spanish dancer and performance artist La Ribot. In Gustavia, the two women are twinned as supremely elegant middle-aged blondes, garmented identically in black leotards and high-heeled Mary Janes. They look spiky, slim and assured as they pick their method across a black draped stage but rapidly begin to act in ways that flow wholly counter to that persona. Theres a petroleum( but exquisitely epoch) duo of Laurel and Hardy slapstick in which La Ribot, hefting a huge black plank, hinders knocking Monnier down. Theres a pin-up calendar of a dance where the two women change poses of leggy glamour with sardonically flexed biceps and kickboxing moves.

Gustavia terminates in a quickfire verbal exchange in which they throw out dozens of ways to describe or categorise themselves as dames. Wry, amusing, beautifully restricted, this really is handiwork that might move into comic or rendition prowes, but its one that could only be performed by dancers like Monnier and La Ribot with years of training behind them, and with a antique physical intelligence.

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Venice Biennale: Putin has a red-hot time as dance cedes to orgasmic chills and S& M taboo

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