You are here

Okulaari: The Phantom’s Curved Leap

In Okulaari dance critic Niko Hallikainen writes about Zodiak’s premieres.

 Uupi Tirronen


Marlene Monteiro Freitas has previously worked in Helsinki as a performer-choreographer in (M)imosa and as a choreographer-dancer in Paraíso – Colecção Privada. Freitas’ style contradicts the trajectory of Western contemporary dance with an inscrutable smirk. The facial and bodily gestures of her choreography are mimetic fireworks; each piece is a pirate ship blowing all of its cannons at the same time. Freitas’ new work Jaguar intensifies this experience even further surprisingly by taming down. She creates one of her weirdest works to date – a circus of the subconscious.

Freitas and Andreas Merk begin this duet by trotting around the stage in matching tennis outfits. Jaguar is a singles match and artistic teamwork. The beginning of the performance turns out to form the ending of a conventional love story. The two performers act like an old couple behaving in a symbiosis of each other’s ticks and mood swings; their bests and worsts piled up into a statue of comedic timing. The centre point of Jaguar’s stage is the beautiful contrapuntal motion of Freitas’ and Merk’s bodies, their valiant physiques. They are supporting each other’s weight while they sink into one another.

 Uupi Tirronen

Due to it’s darkly melodramatic score – a 10-minute David Bowie love anthem plays in the middle of an epic arc of classical music – the piece reeks of a romantic storyline. Yet it’s something completely different. Jaguar is a lifetime, a non-narrative exchange of war stories on a death bed or in a birthplace. It feels like a rite of passage for both Freitas and Merk. The stage is occupied by beautifully discernible struggle and passion, the two imminently intertwined. It is emotional excess in full volume, a total discharge.

The two move and act like marionettes. It is one of the many mysteries inside the haunted house of Jaguar – the horse in the room: if they indeed are puppets, what is operating their bodies? Who is speaking through their talking heads? The piece might not be about love at all, but instead about companions or a shared authorship. A mutual agency in-between two individual beings. They wrap each other in soft-looking blankets, morphing into a new intimate creature that is possessed by the same air that they breathe.

The characteristic motion of Jaguar is formed by a multitude of couples dances and duets. There are precise and fun dualities between Freitas and Merk replicating each other’s manners. They are, and become even more so, closely alike. Their half-painted, half-bare hands meander through the air, stray on each others muscles ending up embracing each other before strolling along. They project one another’s disoriented reflections.

The stage is possessed by romance’s rotting carcass. The fragment of a maggot crawling its way through the space. Imaginary flies are circling the performers, perceptible only through their amplified noise pollution. The orchestral music cuts, Merk whips at the invisible fly, the music continues. The story of Jaguar is full of deliberate distractions. The classical music is cut by intervals of applause that come and go. The stage is haunted by spectres of other performances and shows that were never here. Tiago Cerqueira’s sound design illustrates a second performance haunting the stage or occurring behind it.

 Uupi Tirronen

Where Freitas’ previous works seem like playful riddles Jaguar is a full-on challenge. The piece is definitely comical, although its humor didn’t necessarily resonate with the Finnish public at the premiere. The audience’s focus seemed to be seriously centralized on comprising Jaguar’s meanings. Still it’s easy to imagine that Jaguar will effortlessly adapt to various cultural climates and produce a wide, strong range of different reactions.

The piece features some essential elements of Freitas’ previous works. There are the dysmorphic mouthpieces and the paint-dipped hands. The movement is broken down, mechanical and artificial. It is synthetic motion repeated to the point where it becomes a whole authentic entity of its own. Freitas is able to build her own universe based on distinctive movement – each performance gives birth to its own infrastructure and becomes a celebration of its own legitimacy.

Then there is the horse. The sculpture of a horse, the idea of a horse. The way the horse’s flesh is shaped. The waves of flesh. Its meaty composition undulates in a levitating manner. It amplifies the strength of Freitas and Merk’s bodies. The horse is the figure from a dream, both a philosophical and a psychoanalytical concept. It is a collective fantasy that washes over the stage.

What then is the actual “jaguar” of the piece? The title bares the work’s mysterious nature to the bone. Perhaps the jaguar refers to a set of primitive instincts in the human experience; savage emotions that submit us to the role of the other’s prey. Or perhaps it is an abstraction, or a ghost making its curved leap over the stage, casting a deep shadow on everything? Or maybe it is the false name given to the horse by the two stage personas; maybe Jaguar is the lovers’ undivided misunderstanding.

Niko Hallikainen

Photos: Uupi Tirronen