Work in progress: Varinia Canto Vila's During Beginning Ending     

Work in progress: During Beginning Ending

Varinia Canto Vila’s preview of During Beginning Ending is a work-in-progress about work-in-progress. And Canto Vila has laid out an ambitious blueprint for this construction site: the programme tells us that ‘this state of being ‘mid-way’ is perhaps the best moment to see the intentions, projects and desires of mankind… This space of intention and desire gives visibility to the relation between the dancer and the moving body’. But what does Vila’s space - and this newfound visibility - give to the relation between the dancer/body and the audience?

As they take their seats, Canto Vila hovers by her laptop at the edge of the white Brigittines studio, casually dipping in and out of the entrance; shifting latecomers from next to her computer on the bench to the front row. In these precursory moments, the distinction between her and us is undefined. Eventually she takes up a neutral position centre-stage, eyeing the audience in silence, taking us all in. This sharp transition from private to public body creates a distinct parameter between the beginning of the performance and everything before it. And with her wandering eyes, Canto Vila clearly labels this prologue as an arena of mutual observation.

Having broken her gaze to turn music on at her computer, Canto Vila takes her place upstage and “begins”, her focus settling not on us, but on her own body: into self-observation. Her movements gradually build up to the gentle electronic plink as she works out, works through, works on these components of dance. A flat palm reaches out above her head, followed by the other, each time working higher, wider; giant automated windscreen wipers. The actions are at once assured and tentative, whilst her face looks up at these appendages with almost clownish puzzlement. At times the gap between facial expression and movement is ambiguous: is she driving this movement, is this gesture intended? Or is her body leading, independent in its mission to experiment, to elaborate, to extend, as her expression reacts with surprise, glee, trepidation, discomfort? Each movement is tested to the limit – pendulous rocking from lying to standing barely falls short of slapstick before a new movement is taken up, and the audience are prompted to laugh by her delighted grin. Although Vila is entirely preoccupied with her own physicality, she welcomes the audience in with her plasticine expressions, allowing them to discover her body’s capabilities at the same pace she does.

But after a particularly vigorous oscillating experiment, she closes down. She stands still and breathes heavily. On each outward breath her body seems to cave further into itself, her head flops, her shoulders hunch forwards, her spine crumples. Her inhalation evolves into a snore. She continues to move, but the human element seems lost: her face is blank and we are shut out. Without her alert, exaggerated expression to draw us in and guide us through these movements we have no map with which to read the body. Without an indication of her response to this process we’re left with a set of fragmented actions and no key to interpreting them. Previously the frustrating resistance to meaning was cushioned by the representation of the dancer’s subjectivity, but now we are led to search for something we can’t find. And as the subjectivity of the dancer is no longer represented, the body is no longer objectified.

So is the audience now looking, rather than at the dancer’s struggle with her body, solely at the moving body void of any subjectivity? At the body claiming its necessity and autonomy within the dance? The snoring – usually an involuntary noise – suggests this. But tension arises between what this noise represents and the audience’s awareness that Canto Vila the dancer is driving it. The disentanglement of dancer/body, intentions/movement, private body/public body, has not been possible. This ambiguous exploration, followed by an epilogue mirroring the prologue, allows for a multitude of interpretations, blurring the ‘visibility’ that was initially proposed. Is Canto Vila’s conclusion that her original proposal can’t be enacted or resolved? Or that it is not possible to reach a conclusion within this framework?

The programme tells us that ‘unfinished movements and actions get absorbed into meaninglessness and make what remains absent more present.’ The imperfect, continuous, open-ended noun-verbs of the title express an inability to distinguish between beginnings, endings and durings, between conception and end result, between subjectivity and a body.  At what point does something begin, at what point does something end? When do we know that something is finished? This review is a text in progress, on a work in progress about work in progress.


Eleanor Hadley Kershaw


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