Academic journal article TheatreForum

The Ecologies of Dance Theatre: Sacred and Trans-Cultural Embodiments of Gaia in Ecocentric by Overground Physical Theatre Company

Academic journal article TheatreForum

The Ecologies of Dance Theatre: Sacred and Trans-Cultural Embodiments of Gaia in Ecocentric by Overground Physical Theatre Company

Article excerpt

The postmodern expansion of theatre vocabulary, especially visible in alternative performance, has advanced our dialogue with the natural and cultural worlds. An explicit example of that dialogue, Overground Physical Theatre Company's production of Ecocentric, enables an intriguing and broadly constructed ecomimesis, or "nature writing," through the language of dance theatre (Morton 8). Combining speech, choreography, and multimedia, the experimental piece, which played at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center in June 2012, draws anthropological and aesthetic paradigms of human relationship to and through nature, posing it as ubiquitous, inherent, and ever-evolving. Its polyphonic yet cohesive structure and dance idiom eschew the binary relation of man and nature shared by both "shallow environmentalism," which accepts nature's function to man, and "deep ecology," which insists on nature's uncompromised and unconditional conservation.

Overground Theatre's penchant for a deep philosophical inquiry on pressing social, cultural, and political issues has resulted in over forty avant-garde productions, which have been shown in New York City and internationally for the last ten years. By creating original experimental work in the genre of "urgent meta-theatre," the company provides space for the audiences' as well as performers' cultural and spiritual experience. Each of their shows eventually examines one central question-the holistic (re)connection of mind and soul as a metonym of the physical and metaphysical universe. Overground Physical Theatre Company was founded in 1996 in Sofia, Bulgaria, as an experimental dance laboratory that interculturally blends dance traditions from Europe and Asia. After 2000, the company moved to New York City and expanded its cast and repertoire, presenting full-length productions at prominent venues for alternative performance such as Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theatre Workshop, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Company, Judson Memorial Church, and Dance New Amsterdam. Overground's principal stylistic model is based on the genre of dance theatre: "a performance form that combines dance, speaking, singing and chanting, conventional theater and the use of props, set, and costumes in one amalgam" (Langer). Emphasizing movement-either trained and arduous or daily and routine-dance theatre adopts an abstract and often non-linear storytelling and centers the dramatic "action" on particular situations, archetypal expressions, and human relations. Its closest prototype-the socially engaged yet cathartic Tanztheater of Pina Bausch-was made popular by her Wuppertal Dance Company in the 1970s. In her unique performance hybrid, Bausch drew from the earlier history of European dance theatre, including the experimental physical and (self)cognitive work of Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman, and, later, Kurt looss, who became her teacher. The aesthetic influences of Tanztheater could also be found in expressionist art and mystic teachings and practices, in particular Rudolf Steiner's eurhythmics. Trained in Europe and America, Pina Bausch blended modern-dance traditions with the 1960s theatrical avant-garde into an idiosyncratic performance form that exhibited elements of modern ballet, Theatre of Images, expressionist aesthetic, and Theatre of Cruelty.

By illuminating Overground's specific performatives in the framework of Tanztheater and late twentieth-century avant-garde performance, this article will look at two concrete strategies of Earth embodiment. The first strategy is concerned with the multitude of realms that altogether construct a "sacred landscape" on which Overground Theatre plays its "eco-mystery." The second strategy follows Gaia's trans-historical journey, the spiral of her planetary evolution and heterogeneous and trans-cultural nature performed through divergent rhythmical patterns and soundscapes. Ecocentric constructs a totality of representation similar to what Bonnie Marranca defines as "ecology of theatre, inscribed in the treatment of space and time and the figure [in the works of Robert Wilson]. …

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