marcela levi


© André Lepecki
New York
May 2012

Monstrous Nature. Or, we could also just say: nature. Both clauses would mean the same. For, isn't it true that this is what nature is: anti-natural, truly monstrous? As Deleuze and Guattari remind us, illicit unions and abominable loves are "the only way that nature operates - against itself." Or rather, against a certain image of itself. Which, at least in the history of Western dance, has been an image that has always sided the human with the unnatural. The human as anti-natural entity, as the paradigmatic emblem of a nature that has lost its nature, has been imaged by dance's bestiary as that animal forever striving to find its lost (natural) grace -- through efforts of discipline, knowledge, and mute ascension. At least, this is what Heinrich von Kleist writes in 1810 in his curious parable on dance titled "On the Marionette Theater." As is well known, in Kleist's short text a principal dancer converses with a friend (in a kind of Socratic dialogue) on the superiority of puppets over humans in their capacity to dance gracefully. As the friends talk, it becomes clear that grace and nature are perceived as being one and the same. Through this equation, a very specific triangulation of dance is proposed. At the center of this triangle we find the human, fallen from grace and filled with affectations, after having eaten from the tree of knowledge. This impoverished being, not quite beast and not quite a god, and still not quite a machine, can only strive for a kind of imperfect, never quite graceful, always affected by too much self-consciousness, dance. Equidistant from this poor dancer, from this unnatural being, as the three vertices of the triangle, we find the representatives of full grace, full presence, and full affectless dance: the puppet, the animal, and God. It is the withdrawal of affectation from these three figures that allows them to dance gracefully and effortlessly, ie: naturally. To all of them dance is an exercise of immanence. But Kleist's parable is also a parable on history and historicity. It posits historicity as the trait, or biblical mark, of the human. In other words, history appears as the deviation that extracts the human from the plane of nature and, consequently, from the plane of graceful (ie, affectless) dancing. The impossibility of dance as graceful or natural art is due to the fact that humans are essentially historical beings. The plane of nature, the plane of the purely machinic, and the plane of God are depicted by Kleist as being equivalent: they all are consummated history, a history that is already a plenum, (re)solved from the start by its final (re)solution. Historical process is the clinamen consciousness and knowledge inflect upon the plane of nature, pulling the human away from the nature of the divine, and from affectless (ie, timeless; ie, natural) animality. This is why in Western choreographic imagination, in its onto-theology, and in its aesthetic project "to know" and "to dance" are perceived, conceived, and prescribed as two modes condemned to clash against one another in perpetual antagonism. Beckett expressed this antagonism in Waiting for Godot, when Pozzo agrees with Estragon that the "natural order" is to "dance first and think afterwards." Pozzo's and Estragon's truism expresses, reproduces, and fixes a certain predominant image on the nature of dance and on natural dances that still informs varieties of discourses on dance. The image of nature as thoughtless plenum uniting the beastly and the divine posits a co-composition between the two: Deus sive Natura. But Marcela Levi and Lucía Russo affirm and choreograph just the opposite: nature is unnatural, Nature sive Monstrum. Monstrosity is nature's other proper name. But Levi and Russo know that to affirm this is to locate the historical at the heart of nature and its beasts. For all nature (and by extension all of its beats and all of its gods), is stratified with layers of affectations, affections, and afflictions. The sedimentation of these layers is called history. Or perhaps: nature's unconscious. In Levi's and Russo's vision of such an unconscious of nature, quasi-animal-humans and quasi-human-animals prance around on a furry stage to the sound of rabid screams and circus fanfares. When I sat at SESC Copacabana for the world première Natureza Monstruosa, last year, my first sensation was deeply tactile, given the set's unavoidable effect. But as soon as the piece started, another sensation, muscular and skeletal, overtook me since their staging provoked the need for a slight yet persistent torsion of the audience's necks: one part of the stage would be simply left almost always unused, as a (carefully) uncared for space, and another part of the stage would contain most of all the (choreographic and sonic) action for a while. Indeed, to my right, a field of light determined a zone of concentration for my gaze. It is also from this zone that the dancers erupted. One after the other, prancing along, the three dancers formed (sometimes alone, sometimes together) very odd visions: adults acting like children pretending they were riding horses; or, alternatively, dancers hopping pompously like a kind of late 19th century buffoon pretending he is riding a bike... Whatever these visions were, it is striking how Levi and Russo had conjured totally recognizable images, yet left them dangling there, absolutely familiar and yet, historically unlocatable. Prancing, parading, buffoonish, strict, dancers come and go. From behind the panel where dancers vanish and from where they emerge in clockwork rhythm, there erupt devilish yells, hardcore metal screams, enraged glossolalia filling the stage, throaty, raspy, loud, violent, beastly cries only humans can vocalize. And amidst this all, the prancing young lady (Clarissa Rêgo), and the prancing young guy with a beard (João Lima), and the other woman (Laura Samy) galloping around chirping like a bird. Animals everywhere. And since our heads are tilted to one side throughout, it's as if choreography, staging, lights and sound operate as reins pulling our attention to one side, as one pulls a horse's neck to inflect the direction of its march and attention. Becoming-horse of the audience then, for the sake of a kind of revelation: unnatural alliances will be unfolding before us as the defining movement of nature. As Monstrous Nature unfolds the question is no longer to decide whether all that fur on the stage may represent an immense amplification of a horse's back -- but to actually start suspecting that the whole stage represents nothing other than the inside of a cranial space of a horse's head. With humans appearing and disappearing from only one (and always the same) side of the stage (monocular vision of the horse) like so many flickering visions of abrupt eruptions of violence; with humans producing undecipherable sounds, mostly enraged screams of quasi-linguistic tones; with humans dancing strange little dances, inconsequent jumpings-around, and doing more and more screams screams screams, what Monstrous Nature proposes is another state for dance which finally sutures what Kleist had seen as divided: the human, the animal and the divine. Their amalgamation, their unnatural nuptials, illicit, abominable, but essential is the dancing of a dance which is also the enacting forth of a poetic language for the end of time.