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HOW TO PUT A SPELL ON SPELLING

 Two girls enter an empty stage, walking normally. Both of them get down on their knees with a very natural attitude. Both of them wear jeans. One of them (Adva Zakai) wears a green blouse and the other one (Shila Anaraki) wears a red blouse. The girl in green starts to wipe the floor with her arms. The other repetitively lets her elbows drop on the floor producing thus a constant noise In the meantime, the first girl utters a monologue about the daily routine of a woman, about her way of being, about having sex, about having a dog, etc…

This is the beginning of the piece How to Spell a Piece, created by Adva Zakai and performed by Shila Anaraki and Adva Zakai.

The sentence “I am a woman who follows a strict routine every day.” becomes the pattern of speech that will be repeated several times, with some small variations from one utterance to another. This speech reveals a chain of accumulated clichés. Due to the repeated movements, the chain of clichés can also be projected onto the girl with the red blouse.

The woman who follows a strict routine everyday is “quite rigid and goes with the flow”. She is obsessed with having a very neat house. She has her preferences related to love making. If she dislikes something, she wipes away the memory from her head. Just the way she wipes the floor with her arms. At this point, because of the constant gesture of wiping the floor, one can think that she also intends to wipe away the whole routine, together with her rigidity, together with all that going with the flow. Therefore, ”the wiping away” can be read as the first theme of the performance.

The performance goes on with Adva Zakai’s monologue until a certain point when the other performer is up on her feet. Until this moment, everything seemed clear and very illustrative. Repetitive body language was used to reflect a repetitive way of life. This is in fact the first stage of the piece, which has three parts.

The second stage consists of the intensification of the mirroring between the  language of words and the language of movements. The third stage is a script in itself, in which all the body language used until now is put together in the construction of a funny story about a ghost.

Let us have a look now at the definition of the verb “to spell”. According to the dictionary, “to spell” means to name or to write in order the letters constituting a word or part of a word. As the title of the performance by Adva Zakai is How to Spell a Piece, it can be understood as a method to treat gestures like parts of words. However, what happens on stage is different from this: meanings of words completely correspond to certain gestures, which in fact is not spelling, but mirroring.

In the second part of the performance, the woman with the red blouse introduces another series of clichés. The theme of the lover is brought again into the picture, after having been introduced together with the daily routine of the woman who has wiped the floor with her arms. Now we find out things about a lover who has a split personality: he can be Napoleon, a slave, or even Marilyn Monroe. The portrait of the lover must be remembered because it is a recurrent theme throughout the performance and it probably represents the unifying cliché of all the other clichés revealed in the performance through the means of reflecting words in gestures.

The second stage of the piece, which is dense (more in words than in gestures), emphasizes the possibilities of expressing many sentences through the same gestures. Different movements can stand for a single expression, whether this expression is “the nest of boredom in her garden”, “Bambi’s mother dying under a sky full of stars”or “Moses parting the waters in two.”

Sometimes, one gesture stands for a whole expression, some other times constructions of gestures reflect the meaning of a phrase. In the second part of the piece, the initial isolation of the girls turns into a parallel action of mirroring the words in gestures. In the end, in the third phase of the piece, they build together, with their movements, the script about a lover turning into a ghost.

The gestures are simple: bodies bending back and forth, arms going round, caressing the body, arms stretched out, arms revealing the shape of a heart that can turn into the image of two ducks or of the waters parted by Moses. Shifts of intensity in gestures and speech reveal the mirroring more clearly.

The result is a series of social clichés that we can easily depict in our daily lives or in our cultural background. The climax of the cliché series is represented by the “pop song” Stop (by Sam Brown). The song is a very inspired choice for the construction of the piece. It is recognizable as one of the clearest of the clichés, which will have an easy resonance for every member of the audience.  The choreography chosen for this moment is a playful way of revealing all the movements that have been shown until now. It is, in fact, another way of illustrating a text - this time accompanied by music -  with the same gestures that stood for the previous constructions of words.

The end of the performance reiterates the movements used all along, this time in order to construct a horror movie in the manner of German expressionist films of the 20th century. The atmosphere is ironically increased by sound, light and the facial expressions.

The  final story is based on  the change of a lover, who turns into a ghost constantly chased by a woman’s dog. The choreography is, in essence, the same that we saw before, with the difference that the order of the gestures is changed. It is the same strategy to reveal another cliché through a repetitive motion, through a limited range of gestures.

 The two performers do not take over gestures from one another, each of them has her own specific choreographic language. There is only one moment, in the middle of the performance, during the pop song, when they are completely synchronized.

They exchange the words, they speak the same things sometimes, but the gestures are never conveyed from a dancer to another. Another important aspect is the richness of the words, compared to the restrained number of gestures. The movements are simple and not so complex, but they are repeated and juxtaposed in such a way that they give the feeling of a richness of movement.

Sometimes the two girls smile at each other, which may seem like a sort of complicity in the process of building this relation between movements and words.

Getting back to the definition of the verb “to spell”, it is necessary, for the coherence of the piece, to see if it has something to do with spelling: fragments of movement or entire movements clearly reflect meanings of language. This is, in fact, the deconstruction of a form of language through another different form of language. It is not spelling, but the reflection of the words in gestures, the mirroring of the meanings in gestures and not a spelling in the usual sense of the word. The language and the gestures cannot be in a spelling relation because they belong to different categories of expression. They can be placed in a relationship of meaning, as it happened in How to Spell a Piece.

Adva Zakai’s performance is rigorously constructed , the relation between what is said and what is expressed through movements is always kept under control by the two performers, but it is not exactly a way of “spelling a piece”.

It is a quite original way of mirroring gestures and words, of finding interesting or funny correspondences between them. In the end, it proves to be a way of putting a spell on the meaning of the verb “to spell”.

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