Nosotros – Jaciel Neri (Moving Borders)

Nosotros, choreographer and performer Jaciel Neri’s physical theatre piece created for his ensemble, Moving Borders, opened the schrit_tmacher programme in Aachen as a danced example of the festival organisers’ mission statement. schrit_tmacher’s artistic profile is international and transcultural, and on an administrative level it is pursuing diplomatic aims by concurrently presenting a different programme of works across the border in the Dutch city of Heerlen.

The work begins in darkness and performers whistle from various backstage locations in the cavernous Fabrik Stahlbau Strang industrial space. The audience gains an aural sense of the architecture, shifting the boundaries of the intended performance space clearly framed by black curtains. The testing and permeation of perceived spatial confines – and later social, cultural and gender ones too – establishes itself as a recurring theme from these very first moments, even before the lights come up.
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Lone male dancers, of which there are four in total, each have the opportunity to storm the stage and construct an individualistic stage persona at their own pace. They improvise and pepper dance sequences with their most impressive acrobatic stunts, or a wink and a wave to the audience. There is no musical accompaniment in these short episodes and instead we hear the performers breathe, grunt, whistle, and talk.
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Not only do the dancers introduce themselves one at a time, they distance themselves from one another through unique movement dynamics and vocabularies. This choreographic choice appears to contradict programme notes that claim the work depicts “typical” Mexican males and male bonds. However, a brief consideration of the work’s title, much like the company’s name, hints at the kinds of fluctuations of meanings that Neri recreates in performance. Nosotros, spanish for “we” or “us” depending on its usage, can be understood by audiences as a humanistic statement – as in, we are all essentially the same – or a demarcation between the performers and their audiences – we’re not like you. It’s ambivalent, and Neri turns ambivalence into a productive artistic force.
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That the execution of these opening scenes has managed to maintain an air of spontaneity, despite Nosotros having been created in 2011, is another particular draw card. This impression is further enhanced by the performers’ feigned unfamiliarity with theatre conventions. The dancers chat with their spectators and encourage audience participation, spurting cordial questions — “how are you?” — or offering mundane commentary on the temperature of the auditorium and the quality of the curtains’ heavy fabric. They shake hands with audience members in the front row upon receiving applause, another example of a range of actions that contribute to their likeability, whilst eliminating any sense of a divide between performance and reality.
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Although this all might seem too conceptual for a short dance work that is generally appreciated as a comical work, Nosotros is nonetheless an entertaining and marketable show. Movement operates here as a point of access for viewers of all demographics, playing down the centrality of Neri’s commentary. A series of choreographic vignettes bound from concert to social dance forms, football to Lucha Libre. These eclectic references are spliced together without any concern for smooth transitions, a mash-up typical of the erratic YouTube generation’s tastes. Similarly, the performance constellations shift fluidly from solos to duets, to trios, to movement sequences performed in unison, not necessarily in that order.
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Although the audience has been sufficiently amused not to have noticed the absence of music, when the dancers ask permission to leave the performance space and salsa music begins to play, it is as though the evening has begun anew. The four performers reappear shortly afterwards wearing wrestling masks and a tongue in cheek play with Mexican stereotypes ensues. Machismo is juxtaposed with male femininity, for example brutish Lucha Libre matches are presented in contrast to the smooth gyrations of salsa. The scene steals the show and one can’t help but wonder if it’s inclusion is an artistic or mandatory decision.
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In the final scene of the evening the dancers shed their wrestling masks, shoes and socks, and along with these items their social masks too. They execute complex partnering sequences, including lifts, poses and balances one associates with contemporary circus performance. Unlike the call and response organisation of the performance preceding this scene, Neri’s aim is not to impress the audience with additional displays of strength, coordination and agility. Neither male in these partnered dance sequences takes on a particular role, such as the lifter or poser. The men are equals and well attuned to one another, and their “genderlessness” allows for a meditative conclusion to an otherwise boisterous dance evening.
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  – LUKE AARON FORBES
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Published by Tanzweb Köln, 19 Febrauary 2016. See: http://www.tanzwebkoeln.de/?p=14189