Imagine being seated in a darkened room. Your chair is cushioned. Somewhere in the dark you can hear the soft whine of a low powered motor and the rumbling of four small tires as they randomly maneuver around the elevated stage. The tires belong to a small remote-controlled vehicle which carries a small light. You watch the light slightly illuminate the environs as the rolling device continues its unpredictable itinerary. Sounds begin to fill the spaces hidden from view. There is a lack of pleasing melodies and soothing harmonies. Instead, your brain begins to assemble the pulsing auditory elements into something cohesive. Distorted bursts of static, muffled gunfire and other sonic devices were woven together despite the fragmented nature of the amplified music: At times they seemed to come from a far-off point in the distance and suddenly would reemerge much more closely.
This is how we were introduced to the first part of “Mellomland” at the Kilden Performing Arts Centre last month. “Mellomland” is composed of two dance performances. The first is called BUD, choreographed by Roza Moshtaghi. Prior to the show, my girlfriend told me we were going to see modern dance. I made a supreme effort not to think of an avant-garde Footloose or Dirty Dancing. When the lights dimmed to signal the onset of BUD, I couldn’t help but feel the show had already begun. As the minutes passed, we felt our eyes struggle to adjust to the murk and shadow.
Our ears attempted to find some meaning in the unusual and discordant soundtrack. I wondered when or if something would happen. But it was already occurring.
Part of the concept behind BUD is to explore the question posed by the idea of waiting. Major parts of life are marked by the periods in which nothing happens until… something occurs. We seem to overlook these frequent temporal spaces as less valuable or unworthy of examination. Waiting is considered by many to be boring or uninteresting. An obstacle to a productive and efficient life. And yet, would we feel true satisfaction after having met goals quickly? Would parents want their children born in a matter of hours? What is happening while we wait? What is the value in it?
The inquiry and its contemplation were revealed through the paced and deliberate movements of the stellar cast. One could focus on any of the four artists and watch a unique story unfold. Their supreme physical exertions brought to mind the rigid predictability of machine pistons but also the spontaneity of a lightning bolt. We are more accustomed to human behaviors and motions falling within a normal range. Walking, running, sitting down, standing up; these gestures rarely startle us or call our attention. When we see humans throb, pulse, vibrate and elongate, our gaze becomes transfixed. It was like bearing witness to some hidden god manipulating his acolytes to bring an esoteric ritual to completion. This may be the kind of thing we long for. There is immense worth to moments that break us free from the stupor of life on autopilot. And BUD makes us reconsider what we are waiting for and why.
The other part of “Mellomland” is called Sovaco de Cobra with choreography by Lander Patrick. Sovaco de Cobra translates to ‘Armpit of the Cobra’. Undeniably, a cobra with arms would be more formidable. The damp, hairy and warm pit of a cobra’s arm calls to mind the discomfort of being intimate with someone’s body. Is the show’s title meant to camouflage the intended effect on the viewer? As soon as the stage lights came on, challenges were meted out to the audience. An emcee began the proceedings by spitting out a rapid-fire volley of nonsensical sounding lyrics (that arguably make sense if you look them up online). His exaggerated macho posturing was both parody and homage to hip hop artists and rock stars alike. As he performed, the other dancers took turns engaging him verbally or interrupting his movements with their own.
Rhyming couplets weren’t the only things this troupe spit out. At one point, several streams of water were spewed in the direction of the assembled throng. Was it meant to show disdain for the passivity of the crowd? What kind of reaction, aside from visceral, did they hope to evoke in the age of covid? Generally, Sovaco de Cobra made me feel like I was watching an energy drink fueled wave of social media darlings stomping their way through levels of a dichromatic, postmodern art museum. A lot of spectacles. Random phrases being repeated. Loudly. Twerking bodies. I wanted to log out.
But I couldn’t look away. What were we being asked to reassess? Throughout this showing, themes like gender roles, oversaturation of media, the dynamic between parent/child and society’s expectations of art were touched upon. The questions had been posed. I am curious to see what existing interviews of the mind behind Sovaco de Cobra will reveal. Hopefully, some insights will emerge to satisfy my curiosity.