It's been a week full of dance encounters throughout the city, on stages as well as in the streets. Quartiers Danses is an annual dance festival that celebrates artistic diversity. The programme offers a variety of performances and activities for people of all ages, incomes and interests to participate in. For this 13th edition, the focus was on Spain and its unique flavour of dancing. The opening night on September 9th glimpsed at the roots of Spanish dance with Kukai Dantza, a Catalan company that experiments with traditional Basque dances. On closing night this past Friday, a much more current style from Madrid, Cie Daniel Abreu presents Animal

© Jackie Hopfinger
© Jackie Hopfinger

Advertised with beautiful photographs of dancers in exaggerated poses on lavish stages, I have to admit that Animal was a bit overhyped. The set, also designed by choreographer, performer and company founder Daniel Abreu was simply a thick blanket of torn grey styrofoam covering the floor, a branch over there, and three bouquets of branches hanging overhead. Along with the mostly dim lighting it gave an earthy feeling, like being underground with the roots of trees hanging above you. I guess it makes sense for a show entitled Animal to take place in this kind of muddy setting. In total contrast to this, some of the costume changes included bright red sequins, a pair of purple pants, and a tall, Carnival-style feathered headdress. You had to dig to find a link between it all, but perhaps that was beside the point. In the moment when burnt yellow lamps splayed their light across the floor, between the hundreds or thousands of bits of styrofam, casting long, jagged shadows, all I cared about was the visual pleasure it gave. Though seemingly unlinked, all these elements were a pleasure for the eyes. More beautiful still were the dancers. I'm not talking about the dancing, but about the dancers themselves and their wicked bodies.

We were warned there would be nudity, which isn't usually a factor I find enhances the work, and already in the very first seconds of the piece Animal made true on this warning. A stunning blonde dancer, Anuska Alonso, wandered as if by accident onto the dimly lit stage in nothing but a tiny pair of shorts. Her muscle definition was superhuman, especially when paired with her soft movements and delicate gaze. This is the kind of dancer I love, the epitome of strength and grace. All five of the dancers in this piece, Abreu himself included, were incredibly fit and toned yet they also had this incrediblY smooth quality to their movement. They made everything look easy, even when it was far from it. Try walking gracefully in stilettos across a bumpy floor filled with tiny obstacles while simultaneously contracting and releasing every muscle in your body to create a strobe effect. Or better yet, try doing an uncountable number of vinyasas in a row while someone perches on your calf, then climbs on your back. These are things only highly skilled individuals can do while making you see the art, and not the effort, that goes into it. I saw curiosity, pack mentality, mating rituals and human absurdity in Animal. A pair flung at each other with all of their power, throwing themselves about the stage in whips and turns that bordered dangerously on losing control. It couldn't have been choreographed, it was too raw.

© Jackie Hopfinger
© Jackie Hopfinger
These dancers had learned a movement language and they were in full blown conversation, or even passionate argument, using their bodies. One man, and then another, rolled around like a dolphin in water in a mesmerizing wave. He would flow along his chest, stomach, legs, and back again, then up over a shoulder to change his angle and on he went flowing. The woman in the feathered headdress addressed the audience, or an imaginary friend, repeating the same story in Spanish with varying levels of intensity. I don't know how this was meant to fit in with the rest, it was so human. Then again, humans are animals too. There was no overarching story, just overlapping scenes. The piece emanated a pulsing field of energy that was vibrant, but steady. It was overhyped, indeed, not because the show wasn't as good as they alluded it to be, but because the words and images used to describe it suggested something more dynamic. I can't say I loved this show because it lacked that certain something that provokes an emotional reaction in me. It left a mark, but it didn't move me. 

***11