Cheers, cheers, clapping. A packed Theater Rotterdam with an overwhelmingly diverse audience spontaneously surrenders to the sweet scent of the winti ritual that marks the start of the dance concert. Primis marks. Dancer and ceremony specialist Dayna Martinez Morales cleans the stage, audience and performers by sprinkling perfumed water and white powder. For example, she asks for permission (‘premisi’ in Sranantongo) from ancestors for this ritualistic feast (or ‘prisiri’). Choreographer, sociologist and artistic director Alida Dors, who at the beginning of this season called for more movement and mentorship in the cultural sector and more openness to other voices, styles and stories, wants to Dance Chronicleas she calls her performances, no longer sharing pain and frustration, but a positive desire to be visible and the healing power of self-love.
By this she does not mean the commercially exploited, positive self-esteem that is doing so well on social media, she emphasizes in an extensive explanation, but a jointly cherished, political act of self-care. ‘Love awakens the animal and humanizes the hard-hearted’, sings vocalist Youandi Albertzoon in English that is difficult to understand. ‘Returning to the first home, the first love’, is how Albertzoon quotes fragments of poetry by the black American professor, activist and feminist bell hooks (alias of Gloria Jean Watkins).
It takes quite a bit of puzzling to figure out those intentions. The chain of dance solos and tribal scenes does not easily reveal its meaning. They are also welded together too blatantly for that, and certain choices raise too many questions. Why do the four musicians, masked with curly beards, shrouded in the twilight, remain behind a mesh wall, while they pump all the movement around with their mesmerizing drums, motor growls and roaring guitars? The singer also remains minimally featured.
The pile of clothing that is peeled off in layers illustrates how the dancers get rid of imposed patterns and habits. Back to themselves, they all get a chance to break out of the jungle of yellow ropes and let loose in their familiar dance style. Anaiah Raelyn Carney gives the audience a provocative, lustful look as she twerks with her muscular bum and thrusts her pelvis until she drops ‘dead’. Liza Panjoel carries her body like Mowgli on her back back to the pack.
Deion Simon becomes after a vogue battle with Carney in the ropes, while the women ceremoniously strip him of glued-on layers of skin. Then he runs in circles while the vocalist asks herself singing ‘Why run from the pain?’ There is crawling and boxing with furiously twisting arms. They crumple, hit, rock, flutter and blow. Shoulder to shoulder they rock their feet facing the shadowy masked musicians. As a caring mother goddess, Morales continues to sprinkle lovingly with powder.
With this attempt to make self-love collectively and equally tangible, Dors opens a refreshing window to supernatural, feminine powers from the winti faith, but also raises many barriers for those who are not familiar with them. That’s how she makes Primis an exclusive kind of inclusion. That is allowed, of course, but it does require a lot of information leaflets. And a sturdier beading thread.
By Theater Rotterdam. Choreography Alida Dors. Dance Anaiah Raelyn Carney, Dayna Martinez Morales, Deion Simon, Fiona Dekkers, Liza Panjoel and Vainergill Thurnim. Vocals Youandi Albertzoon. Music Simone Giacomini (musical director), Vicente Pino (guitar), Raphael Vanoli (bass guitar) and Gerri Jäger (percussion).
11/11, Theater Rotterdam. Tour until 12/1.