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Flash Dispatch, 1-02: Catalonian Contemporary
Sitting with Tricicle, Making Origami with Mudances, & More

By Julia Ritter
Copyright 2003 Julia Ritter

BARCELONA -- While sharing an interest in stylish works that integrate movement, video, and impeccable performance, Tricicle and Mudances, both currently wooing audiences with their experiments in form, provide a good example of the wide spectrum of performance available here in Barcelona during the first part of 2003.

The region of Catalonia has long been an incubator of contemporary performance, with a surge of collective creative energy in the 1970s and '80s that resulted in the establishment of local groups. Barcelona nurtured local talent with the influence of guest teachers from Ballet de Marseilles and the London Contemporary Dance School, while young theater artists learned from the theater-to street experiments of Joan Font and Els Comediants. In the 1990s, struggles with funding caused many artists and choreographers to leave the region and spread throughout Europe to pursue other opportunities. The most stalwart artists have stayed, carving out a niche for themselves through necessary and relentless self-promotion and touring throughout Spain with successful works.

Carles Sans, Paco Mir and Joan Garcia came together in 1979 to create Tricicle, a now widely known clown-mime-theater group which is presenting its latest work for the stage, "Sit," at the Teatro Victoria. Mudances, founded and directed by Angels Margarit, celebrates its 18th anniversary this year and has gained a reputation for work that skillfully draws from a sense of female identity. Tricicle is more widely known and commercial, enjoying a popularity that rides on hefty doses of humor and a big public- relations engine (posters advertising the show pop out from every corner in the city). Mudances has been a mainstay of the Barcelona community, linking up with L'Espai, the only major venue in the city that consistently features dance, to present "Origami," Margarit's first work created specifically for young audiences.

Tricicle's "Sit" is a silly as silly can be survey of the simple act of sitting.

A packed house was introduced to Tricicle through a grainy black and white film starring the three middle-aged performers as the inventors of various ill-fated designs throughout history. A steady stream of giggles filled the air while the trio explored some spectacular oddities known as chairs and the problems sometimes encountered when trying to deposit one's posterior in one of these objects. I zoned out for a moment when I thought of how many schemes, tricks and plans have been cultivated while sitting and the hours that are consumed when a chair envelopes our body so our eyes can work, soaking up the action. If you are wondering whether Tricicle's take on the object included the conventional clown tricks of pulling a chair out from under someone, putting a foot through the seat of a chair or smashing a chair over someone's head -- well yes, it's all here as well as saddles, lawn chairs, dentist's chairs, toilets, and bidets. Yet Tricicle, with great timing, physical prowess (particularly the wiry, rubbery, and suave Paco Mir) and rapport among the performers and with the audience, has a way of broadsiding onlookers with humor so all they can do is laugh. While overall, an hour and 40 minutes was too long to take in, I was enamored of the three men trying to dance a tango and playing a complicated game of musical chairs with themselves as seats, while four glimmering, silver lame chairs spun dizzily in the background.

Angels Margarit enveloped her 55-minute work for children in the concept of origami, slowly revealing through a series of apertures a world of color and motion. Margarit says the piece has grown from her interest in bringing dance to young people, particularly boys. This is a visually challenging and richly textured work that will get young (and older) minds musing about the relationships created when opposite ends meet and edges are defined. Margarit has scaled back her company to two men and two women (Eneko Alcaraz, Vera Bilbija, Isabel Lopez and Marc de Pablo), yet she effectively doubled the size of the ensemble by augmenting the performance with Nuria Font's video. It is this collaboration of live and projected action that is the most engaging aspect of the work.

"Origami" began with a continuous flow like the pouring of water, when Vera Bilbija, in a red dress, scalloped her way across the floor on her knees, framed by a large rectangle moved along the edge of the stage by Isabel Lopez, in silhouette. Marc de Pablo and Eneko Alcaraz, dressed in Ariadna Papio's bulbous, thick white costumes, rolled across in a simple, sustained contact duet. They resembled people inside rolls of toilet paper, yet the interesting shape and density of the costumes was not explored fully. When we saw Alcaraz begin to toss himself about, softly landing around the stage, the costumes turned endearing, but the intent became confused when the dancers took on monkey-like characteristics.

Throughout the intersection of live dancers on stage and those on video, the images of movement were folded out in front of us, like paper dolls stretched out in brilliantly saturated colors. The score by Joan Saura is a pleasing mix of techno bob and natural sounds, smoothly bridging the transitions between sections. The quartet of dancers enticed when they were reduced, replacing and consuming each other in the space. Yet too soon it was a play-fight, with repetitive stop and go action ("Game over- deposit quarter") and the partnering was too reminiscent of Pilobolus's experiments with reciprocal actions. Break-dancing is the ubiquitous form tossed into performances for children these days, although here Margarit won with a brief interlude that effectively captivated: Alcaraz was boxed within a sumptuous blue light by designer Ernesto Fois after sharing the stage with a video of shadow images of people running (why show this twice?). Alcaraz seemed to be pushed through the light, and began a solo in which he was folded in upon himself and turned inside out by some outside force. His movements were sinuous, and the care of matching up the corners of his body while turning out his core clearly echoed Margarit's conceptual interests and gave a glimpse of physical virtuosity. As the work ended, the dancers were framed by a slide of rapidly changing colors, and swirled through the space on a diagonal. Seeing their obvious beauty and skill as dancers, I wished for Margarit's strong, visually intelligent hand to reach in and shape with more care their dancing, as she had so ingeniously crafted the musical and visual interludes throughout the work.

Public enthusiasm for contemporary performance bodes well for companies from Barcelona. Keep an eye out for the growth of performance and dance in Catalonia, including the work of Dies de Dansa, an international festival of dance utilizing the tantalizing architecture of Barcelona to present dance in urban landscapes each July, and performances at the prestigious Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, which continues to add dance to its schedule, in the Salas Petit workshop space.

Tricicle presents "Sit" at the Teatre Victoria through April 13. Mudances presents "Origami" at L'Espai until February 2.

Julia Ritter is an assistant professor of dance at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. She is working through a Fulbright Scholar Award in Germany for 2002- 2003 and is the artistic director of Julia Ritter Performance Group.

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