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  • Writer's picturejeffmcm

David Zambrano creates a kinetic democracy in Brussels

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

Reflections on culminating performance of David Zambrano’s 5 week Intensive Flying Low & Passing Through at TicTac Art Centre, Brussels October 6, 2022.

To see democracy as movement, I had to go to Europe, specifically Brussels. Not “movement” as in political tendency but movement as kinetic fact, the movement of bodies in space as a narrative of behavior, showing that life can be made joyous through kinetic engagement with the actions of others. The more than 50 young performers in the showing of David Zambrano’s dance workshop at TicTac Art Centre in Brussels were all working improvisationally, the audience watching a particular kind of performance paradise being created in and around us. What we see in David’s students/performers is kinetic joy, with constant attention to each other yet no heaviness about that responsibility; this is work as pleasure. But it is work, reminding us that, at its best, live performance models the shared creation of group trust and responsibility. You may fly on multiple levels and pass through and among the efforts of others, becoming one while simultaneously containing multitudes. In this evening’s performance, the blasts of concert recordings of American jazz musician Buddy Rich gave the performers a sonic force which they engaged with seemingly every second as if they were both producing the music and responding to, against and around it. The choice of Rich fit the in-the-moment mood of the overall work; a former vaudevillian and tap dancer, who later became an actor after his career as a drummer, Rich has been quoted as saying, “I don't care about notes. I care about time,” and “You can only get better by playing.” And play these dancers did. The use of music embraced the entire recording, just as the dance took in the whole room; the clapping, the intros, the pauses between make sense and give us pause. But all those moments are filled.

What David is doing with his students is a tonic display of a truly “social” form of dance. There are steps, impressive expertise and fluid partnering, elements of a language being constantly exchanged and remixed. We can sees concepts of pure (is there such a thing?) improvisation, contact improvisation, Viewpoints, Gaga, transmitted through invention and joy. Or maybe I’m just labeling something. Never did a moment feel the least bit academic (as Viewpoints occasionally can), interior or gnomic. The performers’ understanding of David’s concept of passing through AND flying low kept creating new spaces, new moments, never becoming overly predictable or formalized. We could perhaps figure out the syntax, but the content kept changing.

The one-night performance resembled the best crowd scene ever not filmed; no “stars” and the focus multi-spatial, moving towards and away, side to side. Everything seems to contain a spiral, a multi-level kinesphere allowing no beginning or end of a movement, even in moments of relative stillness; you can feel the engines rumbling. The performers are keeping tabs on us as we watch them watch each other.

In this work, every mover has their moment(s), being simultaneously everyone’s moment, not grandstanding or grabbing focus because that focus is part of the dynamic, an essential foundation of the movement language itself from the moment the group entered from the upstage left door. This work opens up the room, moving the walls and the floor into the air.

While presented in a dance studio, with no wings or fixed seating, I think this work could also triumph in a formal proscenium. I would like to see David be given that forum, as this performance was a triumphant reminder that work that might be called somatically based and improvisational (I’m not sure David would agree) can be every bit as engaging, structural, and dramatic as “rehearsed and choreographed” work (I put these terms in parenthesis since such supposedly concrete ideas are part of the flow at this level of improvisation).

After the thunderous applause, David made a few brief comments. He pondered, somewhat whimsically, whether the UN powers recently meeting in NY might benefit from some flying low and passing through; might this form of creative strategic action (not theorizing or pontificating but watching, listening, connecting, moving on) move some needles in international conduct? I thought about this later when we joined two Brussels-based friends for dinner. One (Italian) is a lawyer for EU, the other (French) teaches political science at Univ. of Strasburg. We talked, in English, about the free flow of citizens (admittedly, only citizens of EU countries) experiencing Europe as somewhat borderless, leading to a flexibility and complexity of language. They had recently traveled to the west coast of U.S., mostly California, and we were teasing out the differences between sensibilities; the American focus on individual “freedom” contrasting with the European’s more global sense of that term. Yet when they were in San Francisco, several waiters quizzed them about how this European freedom of movement is possible; their own families were stranded in Mexico. Of course, our conversation could not be separated from the recent elections in Europe, specifically Italy’s turn towards revanchist fascism.

Looking at a performance in which each performer stands out, yet is always in service to a group composition and dynamic, tells me that David, a Venezuelan whose career has been borderless and international, is on to something. Art practices can, on occasion, indicate a more powerful and effective form of communication, perhaps because the task is communication itself; the product being the performance of that communication. The surface simplicity of that goal is so basic as to be profound. David’s class/company (and indeed after 5 weeks of intensive training I consider them a temporary company) manifests diversity by promising an experience of kinetic democracy; the multi-lingual/multi-national participants are living and moving through attention, choice, observation, inspiration, temporary structures, literally within the walls and floors of a particular space.

And given that we live in a world in which we fret over inflation while the ecology deflates, it is significant how Zambrano and his partner Mat Voorter structure these workshops to be affordable. 1800E for 5 days of 5 sessions of all day workshop every week, including a chef prepared lunch, is inspiring. And since so many discussions of anything out of the mainstream demands consideration of “scale,” consider that Zambrano’s workshops can have, as this one did, 50-60 participants. That is the yeoman work of building aesthetic citizenship. May it keep crossing every border it finds.

Jeff McMahon 2022

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