A burdened beast of promise
The notion of resistance runs throughout Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company’s latest work, “Revolver,” and it’s an apt one. For “Revolver” resists easy definition, purposely setting itself up as a piece that “defies our tendency to objectify the world around us.” Indeed, the frames of reference for “Revolver” indicate something of the bravery, and difficulties, it presents. An attempted dialogue between dance, film, theatre, both performance and visual art, as well as soundscapes, silent movies and objects, the multi-disciplinary “Revolver” risks trying to be all things to all people. The resulting dialogue is often uneven, especially between visuals, objects and performer, with the finished result suggesting a conversation with too many people talking while its central voice is drowned out. If “Revolver’s” exploration of change attempts to re-establish the performers relationship with matter so “music, objects, video and dance act on par,” it doesn’t quite deliver. For despite equal billing they don’t all succeed on par, and the whole doesn’t deliver near as well as it should. Indeed, “Revolver,” despite showing promise, becomes something of a burdened beast. Which is a shame, for when it hits home, it is stunningly beautiful and deeply moving.
From the outset, "Revolver" struggles to find its feet. Quietly and deliberately, solo performer Jazmin Chiodi, dressed in white, enters and walks slowly about the space. Behind her a black and white movie, evoking Ingmar Bergman more than the Silent Movie era, dominates the back wall. Shot in stop-motion, a lone figure in a boiler suit sets about stockpiling a plethora of objects in a field overlooking a valley. Presently a long, wooden light-stand is lowered from the ceiling, suspended mid-air, and a chair is brought in. Chiodi sits and slowly puts on a boiler suit before eventually fetching a clutter of objects which she places on her back. Like a bent over, beast of burden, she begins moving backwards as a tall curtain billows in a gentle breeze. Around her there’s the sound of wind and traffic, and sounds evoking something like a ghostly presence moving furniture about in an attic above. Soon the music begins.
This opening sequence to “Revolver” highlights some of the performative issues which undermine its success. Too much of a slow burner, it has a lot happening but there's very little going on. Indeed, the visual and visceral contrast with Chiodi’s exquisite floor routine, which immediately follows, is striking. As is the contrast between the animated Chiodi and her inanimate objects. No matter what their arrangement or composition, they are never remotely as intriguing as she, with Chiodi always the most visually striking thing on stage. Indeed, the aspiration to explore “the performers relationship with matter, giving new shape to found items” doesn’t deliver. It barely gives new shape to the performer. As Chiodi chucks and flings objects onto the stage, the sounds of her exertions are far more interesting than the objects themselves. Left to their own devices, during her often prolonged gaps off stage, the onstage objects generate performative 'dead air' and you can’t wait for the energetic Chiodi to return.
As she sets about organising and reorganising her hoard, things become more interesting, if a little predictable at times. Suggesting a smattering of silent movie slapstick, steeped in a heightened theatricality, referencing both Laurel and Hardy as well as Chaplin, Chiodi hurls objects about the stage with breathless groans and sighs. If mildly amusing, it feels a little forced and predictable in places, which the 'dead air' doesn't help. Yet once Chiodi sets about trying to find the path of least resistance, dancing in retraceable lines with repeatable patterns, she evokes a Sisyphus like struggle, steeped in joy, pain, sorrow and frustration. Here “Revolver” is at its most deeply moving and poignant. But the human, once again, defers to the objects, which are gathered and piled high, before returning briefly for a final, tender duet, reminiscent of Liadain Herriott’s award winning “Liminal.” A circularity is achieved, but is the circle closed or set to revolve yet again?
As in their previous work “Fit/Misfit,” Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company’s active collaboration with other artists is once again in evidence, and once again the results are mixed. At times, it looks like Jazmin Chiodi is overly gracious. Visual artist Martín Mele and composer Oscar Mascareňas, both bring added dimensions to “Revolver,” with Mascareňas's score and soundscape being particularly evocative. But the dialogue between performer, and both objects and film, is not always as successful, frequently diminishing the former without sufficiently enhancing either of the latter.
If Chiodi's ‘The endless story of trying to make new out of a single self,’ presented as part of the excellent “Embodied at the G.P.O.” was a jumping off point for “Revolver,” then “Revolver” hasn’t traveled far enough yet to be a thing uniquely its own. Even so, Jazmin Chiodi is still an extraordinary talent and the centre around which “Revolver” coalesces, giving it breath, body and life. Not quite dance, not quite theatre, yet not entirely something new, neither purists nor innovators are likely to be overawed. And yet, there’s a strong sense with “Revolver” that Jazmin Chiodi is engaged in an Emerson like “stuttering and stammering” in the face of the unknown, quietly raging to will this new creative form into existence. At moments, it feels sublime. But not often enough, and often not deep enough. Yet when it does, "Revolver" is indeed exquisite, and a promise that there's so much more to come.
“Revolver” by Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company in collaboration with Martín Mele and Oscar Mascareňas, runs at The Project Arts Centre until January 14th
For more information, visit The Project Arts Centre