Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas

Edvard Munch, Dance of Life


Commentary on the show choreographed by Alejandro Ahmed

What's happening at São Paulo City Ballet?

To quickly answer: sublime chaos! With the shows Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas, by choreographer Alejandro Ahmed and cast, and Variation, by Davi Pontes and cast (whose last performances were unfortunately on 27/10/23), the São Paulo City Ballet took the audience into a subjective upheaval with the creative explosion of immanences between bodies-space-times. It was impossible not to leave the shows perplexed, transformed, stunned and with renewed evidence that “the fact is that no one has determined, to this day, what a body can do” (Spinoza).

Both shows were experiments (successful!) on the disinterment of the body, the creation of post-human and even inhuman bodies, which is why they were difficult shows to be appreciated without notable resistance from the public, in which we saw people absenting themselves from the audience and even closing or looking away, especially from the naked bodies in a creative explosion, although in the end the majority of the audience gave both shows an intense, long and enthusiastic standing ovation.

Limiting myself to commenting Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas" (then Variation deserves a separate criticism with symmetrical praise), watching the show was an experience of witnessing and participating in an explosion of chaotic singularities. Between the powers and virtualities of Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas, we find the triggering of a subjective destitution, as what is called into question by many routes of pure bodily expressiveness is our Western image of the body… hospitalized and tortured.

So, what happens in Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas is the free creation not exactly of a cosmos (in function of kosmos in Greek and in the astronomical tradition from Antiquity to Modernity being closely associated with the notions of beauty, order, harmony and reason) but rather a chaos (with elective affinities with the Deleuze-Guattarian conception and proposed by Viveiros de Castro as an image of intensive thought Amerindian in Cannibal metaphysics), free from a priori forms, schemes or structures, previously conditioning body expressiveness, time, space and the scenic process, which precisely due to this creative opening is not a process but an Event.

Without prior conditioning of a closed or determined choreography, Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas is an open choreography (called “indeterminate choreography” by Alejandro Ahmed), a performance of transcendental empiricism, with the creation in the act of an intensively dynamic immanence of bodies-space-times, like a chaosmogony, averse to the harmoniously structured starscape as a unifying and totalized totality.

It would be possible, however, to object that there is an a priori choreography guiding the dancers' performances, as the show has some internal movements such as, for example, a first movement in which the dancers with less technical, but no less sublime, body expressiveness are with black costumes and masks that transform them into beings from another dimension; another movement in which they are naked with aberrant and technically high-level performances, in which we hardly recognize human bodies, despite the artistically transformed nudity and infinitely far from any vulgarity; another neoclassical movement in which chaos-dancers without faces (or with astral appearances) perform pirouettes and surreal pointe movements; another movement in which chaos dancers make astral revolutions in different and opposite directions with silver spheres at the end of a rope extending their hybrid bodies; finally a movement in which chaos-dancers are transfigured into the chaotic explosions of light and sound of the “silence-time” metronome, in a dimension in which everyone (dancers and audience) has hardly reached an altered state of consciousness or a trance.

All this and much more happens with stellar lighting that spectacularly explores light and darkness, also resulting from a giant light metronome suspended in the background, whose name “tempo-silence” we discovered when reading the programming and whose creation is by Diego de los Fields. Scenically, there are 12 platforms on the stage to be occupied variously by 12 dancers, who, 3 in number, leave the platforms and return to them according to the formulations resulting from 4 measures of the light metronome, which, in turn, each correspond to a group of 3 listed platforms.

Furthermore, there are 8 suits of movements that the dancers execute in evolution and in synchronization with the time spaces in which the musicians can freely perform the 15 notes of Jonh Cage's soundtrack, as in his piece Sixty-Eight, each of the 68 musicians has in front of them an open score with 15 notes to be freely played by each instrumentalist at a tempo only suggested by a hybrid composer-software system called “time bracket”. Not surprisingly, the show received an almost homonymous title and assimilated this post-structuralism of emptying the place of the composer, conductor and choreographer.

However, these and other sublime movements of proliferation of Events of Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas they do not condition a priori the free, singular expressiveness of each chaos-dancer. This creative openness arises from the fact that each chaos-dancer is emancipated from a totalizing and unifying choreographic scheme, as is each musician in the orchestra who performs Sixty-Eight, soundtrack for the Balé da Cidade show in September 2022 and one of the soundtracks for the show in October 2022, which now also has a soundtrack composed by O Grivo – Grupo Musical Experimental, from Belo Horizonte-MG, which is a notable fact that even in the dimension of its soundtrack the show maintained a self-differentiation.

Consequently, each presentation of Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas it was an Event, each show took place in a different variation in relation to the other shows, with the proliferation of a multiplicity of other chaos. Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas created other worlds, parallel chaos, chaotic heterogeneities of post-human and inhuman bodies-space-times never seen in our human cosmos of interned and tortured bodies.

In fact, in the creative and singular variation of each chaos-dancer, we do not recognize human bodies but rather stars, animals, reptiles, insects, fungi, vegetables, minerals, volcanoes, comets, interspecific, intergeneric, intergalactic, interdimensional performances, with the consequence of returning, without asking permission, to the public anti-narcissistic images of ourselves in which we do not recognize ourselves, images so strange and unfamiliar that they arouse all kinds of resistance, affections and emotions.

About time, the exact 30 minutes of the soundtrack Sixty-Eight are timed by two large stopwatches arranged diagonally on the two sides of the front of the stage, as well as by the 4 different measures of the “time-silence” light metronome and by the time spaces of John Cage's score, which inevitably constitutes a heterogeneity of temporalities , all immanent in all. In fact, at the end of Cage's soundtrack and with the dancers only apparently at rest on their platforms of chaotic take-offs and returns, the “sublime intertwining of contraries finally intertwined” is the transfiguration of the dancers into explosions of light-sounds accelerated by the metronome.” time-silence”, with which the show ends.

Thus, the audience reads, hears and sees movements every thousandth of a second, but the magic is that each dancer creates and transfigures himself into yet other temporalities, so that the 30 minutes are transformed into temporalities and even into perpetuities (perpetual repetitions of the difference in differentiation) immanent in each other.

It is also necessary to say something about the expression “Axys-Atlas”, would it be a sidereal place? The name of another planet? From another dimension? From a black hole? From paradise? From hell? Perhaps all this and more, because “Axys-Atlas” seems to be a place without where, better said, a plural place, places without where, chaos from other dimensions, plurality and variation as places, heterogeneity of bodies-space-time , places not of pluralities in variation, but the variation of pluralities as places without where.

“Axys” and “Atlas” are also the names of the last two vertebrae of our spine, at the base of our cervical spine and responsible for the base of the skull. Both constitute the atlas-axial system, responsible for our head movements. In fact, from beginning to end, chaos dancers make repeated aberrant movements with their heads up and down, emitting the hypnotic sound of a shamanic rattle.

“Atlas” or “Atlante” is also the name of one of the titans, that is, Atlas is one of the powers of chaos and disorder that besieged the Greek pantheon with the purpose of dethroning Zeus and shaking the order and harmony of the world. Kosmos. In other words, the fight of giants between Zeus and titans is the gigantomachia between Cosmos and Chaosmos. The triumph of Zeus and his allies was consecrated with the condemnation of Atlas to perpetually support the heavens on his neck and shoulders, although Atlas is also interpreted as one of the supporting columns of the world.

Therefore, with some license we can say that what happens in Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas It is the Event of May 68 in the Greek pantheon, a kind of counter-mythology in which titans triumph over order, disconcert worlds and heavens and create chaos. The aberrantly repetitive movements and triggers of the shamanic rattle may well be Atlas's rebellion against the supporting columns of the heavens and worlds, repetitive movements that fracture the columns and create openings, fissures and creative splits in the orderly cosmic reality. Behold, titans are transfigured into disinternalized bodies, stripped of their armor, transindividual, free to create new worlds singularly and collectively.

In this event of undressing and violating the “good” customs of internment of the body, part of the public was shocked and left the show. What unfortunately the moral shock perhaps did not immediately capture was that in this context the undressing of dancers was the expression not of human nudes but of post-human and even inhuman bodies. In the Undressing Event, it is necessary to highlight the fact that each dancer transfigured their body into pure art, each dancer bravely was capable of total surrender of their flesh to art, to the public, to creation, to life. Therefore, Bravo to Ana Beatriz Nunes, Antonio Carvalho Jr., Ariany Dâmaso, Bruno Rodrigues, Camila Ribeiro, Carolina Martinelli, Fabiana Ikehara, Fernanda Bueno, Isabela Maylart, Jéssica Fadul, Leonardo Muniz, Luiz Crepaldi, Manuel Gomes, Marcel Anselmé, Marcio Filho, Marina Giunti, Marisa Bucoff, Victoria Oggiam and Yasser Díaz!!

A critique of Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas entitled “The rules of the game”, although complimentary, forcefully observes that the general public was not prepared for the “game on stage” and that “Balé da Cidade did not give the audience the rulebook for this game”, so that “it is not even possible to know if the match we watched on stage is a good match in that game”. This is true in part, because it was a huge mistake for the public not to have received the printed program (only available online), in fact reading the program greatly illuminates the grandeur of “Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas”.

Furthermore, there is a podcast by choreographer Alejandro Ahmed on the Thaetro Municipal channel in a music streaming format, which should have been more blatantly publicized to the public. Be that as it may, the fact is that even without this pedagogical preparation, the public was deeply impacted by the show. Definitely, it was impossible not to have been crossed, touched and transformed by Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas, but the impact would certainly have been qualitatively greater if the public had had the program at hand, which is, in fact, dense and very instructive.

Finally, I ask permission to speculate that Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas was a manifesto by Alejandro Ahmed to the Brazilian public and the world, as a way of saying what he came to be as artistic director of the São Paulo City Ballet. If this is the case, even if Sixty-Eight in Axys-Atlas retains absolute artistic value, the show is also an announcement of what the public can expect in the future and with what disposition they should wait, a kind of anticipation that the City Ballet, symmetrical to its power of total surrender of their bodily subjectivities to art and from the public, it generously requests the public's willingness to experience subjective destitution and transformation of all their preconceptions of what is contemporary, dance and art.

*Luiz Marcos da Silva Filho He is a professor of philosophy at PUC-SP and at Faculdade São Bento.

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