The dance of liberation (La danza de la liberación
– core of the text)

“Independently from the fact we are not able to perceive the Universe – Tarkovski wrote in Sculpting in  time – the image is capable of expressing that totality”. If this might be the attraction of filmed reality, works such as Horizon of exile by Isabel Rocamora may well enjoy that penetrating capacity to transcend: through a symbolic voyage of two women in an extreme situation, whose wear, chanting and prayer brings us to a contemporary Middle East.

If Isabel Rocamora (Barcelona 1968) comes from the world of theatre (and cinema), it has been through her combination of video and choreography that she has been able to evolve her particular way of creating a no-man’s-land with its own sense of time; a land in between an eternally returning past and a future in suspension.

... occupies a position of its own, it has consequently been recognised with an IMZ Dance Screen Award in the Hague and a (Media Honors) in L.A as well as Jury Special Mentions in Hong Kong and Naples. It’s worth us pointing to two works in her filmography, firstly the excellent piece Residual; a lyrical study on our peception of urban space, and secondly Insomnia, a manifesto on her aerial, oniric, gravityless choreography.

In Horizon... Rocamora plays using the board of the Atacama desert to create a flow of Escherian question marks, which originate from the interior conflict of Woman subjugated to radicalism. In resonance with the filmography of Iranian/ (Afghan) filmmakers such as Sidiqq Barmak or Samira Mahmalbaff, she generates an even more universal quest, that of identity, which finds its most paradigmatic case in the journey of exile. In that situation, the confrontation with ‘the other’, the direct gaze into the camara, which allows for self-recognition, remains suspended through the use of the veil – the act of hiding. Rocamora situates that erasure of identity, symbolised by the directionless walking of the two women, outside the city – the space of law and convention where masculine power penetrates all intimacy from the minaret. Atacama becomes the projection of the interior space of two women, like Peter Brook’s empty space, who leave for an undefined place, just as arid and vacuous, devoid of any point of reference... and this is material enough to craft an act of theatre. Topology and sentimental anatomy here become one and the same thing.

Horizon... talks about a double exile. The voiceover reveals testimonies of Kurdish, Iraqi or Chilean women who say: “Our existence is wrong, being a woman is wrong, it’s like that”. Some of these voices were recorded in England, revealing a second exile, one that joins the internal exile of being a woman. The audio adds other levels of complexity: from Jivan Gasparyan’s duduk which fills us with the Armenian exile, and which leads us to think about Charles Aznavour’s response, in Egoyan’s film Ararat, when talking about the pain suffered by his country: “who were those people to hated us so much?”.

The choice of a Chilean location, the most obvious estrangement in the work, in the contextualising of dancers with place, emerged as an imperative following the Lebanon/ (Israel) conflict and the instability of the region post 9/11.

As an Arts Council of England funded work, the ministry of culture advised the production should move away from Petra (the original shoot location), making virtue of necessity. It is possible that the unconscious of the work, practically invisibly, may reflect the female anxiety in times of war – a landscape which appertains more to a masculine psyche, as Virginia Woolf would claim. And this is why the final image in Horizon... offers such clairevoyance, reminding us of Millais’ Ophelia; it is the image of feminine despair by the hands of a man.

If we may compare the work with dance, the latter is perhaps the discipline, within the more avant-garde scenic arts, which allows for broader experimentation, avoiding the traps laid by words. Since every uttered word is but a lie, at least that’s what Beckett used to say. The relationship between the performative body and the camera has huge potential, one which the visionary Merce Cunningham started to explore. The compatibility of exchange between these two media renders them fit for joint venture. This translates, on an international level, in established festivals and high quality national production, at least on a technical level, since other countries see in dance for screen a hybrid discipline with infinite potential for artistic expression.

In Rocamora’s case we see a combination of training in butoh, physical theatre, cirus skills (and cinema) to develop what the artist has called aerial dance-theatre, while opening up a dialogue with other filmmakers such as Tarkovski, or, especially, Angelopoulos. Their cinema has also drawn expansive horizons for characters in the process of reconstructing identities and created apparently static frames in which, invisibly, the movement of violent subterranean currents may be perceived.

Promise of fallen time (Promesa de temps caigut – middle blue column)

Isabel Rocamora’s new production Promise of fallen time, featuring Enric Majó and Anna Mittèl was premiered at this year’s IDN Festival (image, dance and new media) celebrated last January, from the 8th to the 11th, in el Mercat de les Flors and Caixaforum. The film was commissioned by NU2’s, TVC and Reeldance Festival, Australia. Promise… takes place in a zone-room, where two characters meet at the final stages of maturity: he who awaits death and she who still strives to survive.

On this occasion, the room offers a particular means of transiting, a filmic logic penned with the same ink as Stalker: a room which presents a site for passage, where its two protagonists, who are on their way to another place – we know not which - enter into a particular gestural dialogue on faith, memory and the fear of loss. This closed space, in fact the floor of a building in a postapocalyptic Eixample, is confronted with an exterior space – the city of Barcelona – as sole reference confirming all we see must be true.

In this way Rocamora continues to play with estrangement and the decontextualisation of characters and elements inviting the viewer to endow each and every one of them with the same yearning nostalgia. If we may recognise some of these, even through alluding to the Russian director, as belonging to our habitual map of symbols: the urn, the hot coal, the ritual bathing…, others appear in a disconcertingly unselfconscious manner; be it the dog or the boy, who both allude to a much more open position with regards to death, and who remind us of Rilkean symbolism.

Despite some noteworthy changes with respect to Horizon… Rocamora maintains her fine taste for texture, revealing life in each and every one of her still-lives. Here too we are to feel the accent offered by human presence in an empty space, as well as a freedom for interpretation which allows the story to capriciously intertwine in its viewer’s memory.

In “La danza de la liberación” (the dance of liberation), Ferrán Mateo, La Vanguardia (Culture Magazine – Screens), 25 February 2009

Translator notes:
• In brackets are small additions which clarify or complete the original article as it was printed.
• A typo in the catalan title has also been corrected ‘caigut’ vs ‘perdut’.
• ‘Stalker’ is a film by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.
• ‘Eixample’ is an area of Barcelona.

This translation has been checked and agreed by the writer of the article.