In this period of technical reproducibility – in which we consume foodstuffs subjected to complex industrial systems, write on computers, and communicate with machines that even lead us to wonder what differentiates us from them – the world of art is a zesty reminder of the idea of nature.
The well-established myth of nature seems to be embedded in our cultural DNA, at least since the birth of language, that device entangling us in a symbolic totum revolutum that imposes distance from nature. Since we gained the ability to speak it seems that we have not been able to be merely animals subject to the immediacy of nature; we are prisoners of a distance that we have lived over the course of time with a greater or lesser degree of discomfort, but it is still a distance that never quite seems to be fully resolved.
Perhaps that is why it is one of the greatest issues in philosophy – even the ancient Greeks held it as an inescapable obsession – as the human condition was made to depend on the appropriate response to it. Great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle sustained that as we are human our own space is logos, i.e., the word or reason. As we are not gods (who inhabit the divine) or beasts (animals that live subject to natural laws), we must live in the polis (or city) where laws and politics are forged in the hilarious tension between the divine and the animal. Our philosophers would not deny the difficulties entailed by properly inhabiting that intermediate terrain, the same one where providence seems to have abandoned us to our fate, but they would not hesitate to sustain that it constitutes our true nature.
The art of dance was not foreign to the ups and downs of this mad paradox, perhaps one of the most essential of the many we encounter. Academic technique, despite the strong body codification involved and the constant struggle that it creates against criteria like gravity, has been considered by theorists as “natural”; it was they who sustained for centuries that it was the best representative of the desires that “nature” could pursue. Simultaneously, many philosophers sustained that what is precisely human is the terrain in which God has placed us, making us in his image and likeness and that, either due to original sin or the particular situation in which we find ourselves due to the human condition, we have been hurled since we were expelled from Eden, that absolute garden, which still constitutes the purest image of virgin nature. Centuries after the Middle Ages we continue to be reminded from university rostra and church pulpits that we are humanized when we behave in a socially acceptable way and when we appropriately use our most powerful weapon, reason, i.e., when we guide our actions with morality. The so-called second nature, the one that our cultural devices offer will wind up covering us up, the way skin covers animals.
So deeply-rooted was that idea stating that nature (so often associated with the fury of great catastrophes) is characteristic of beasts that we will have to wait for the Enlightenment to find the first advocates who dare to associate nature with something good. In philosophy the idea of the “free body” or “natural body” finds its first notable voice thanks to theorists like Rousseau, who see the city as a prison and the corruption of a lost nature that, if it weren’t for civic education and its subsequent social perversion, would have continued in line with the happy “noble savage.” This idea, which took on a strong presence in modern dance thanks to choreographers like Isadora Duncan, is diametrically opposed to the nature shown by the realist painter or the one that we can read about in peasant history, in which the conditions of life in the country seem to be the prisoner of a harshness that only the comforts of the city can free. In fact, the desperation to escape the harsh life of the country was the impulse that motivated the desire to populate cities and wound up creating modern life as we know it today. Perhaps that is why it is even more paradoxical that it is precisely at present, when we enjoy the greatest comforts in the city, that we associate nature with health, desirability, and good, to such an extent that our screens echo our desire to return to nature. Or perhaps not, perhaps we only wish to return to what we’ve lost.
In any event, many current choreographic proposals – negating or questioning the strong imprint of the classic dance canon or echoing the urgency to recover naturalness – explore the idea of lost nature, which its protagonists aim to recover through an experimental encounter. The results of this are choreographic creations in which the body expresses itself through predetermined vectors (like mimesis of natural forms) or stories (narratives) that focus on the idea of “nature” so much so that, despite how the well-worn the question may be, it remains valid: what is nature?
Through “Labranza” the LaMajara collective – comprised by dancers Daniel Rosado and Reinaldo Ribeiro – offers an opportunity in which, with the collaboration of the malagueña Paloma Hurtado, it invites us to revisit nature through a play on pictorial, musical, and experiential references that tie together bringing the key question to the fore: what is nature for us?
The response is articulated in the summun of projects that have already had a number of successful stops like the dúo Almáciga or the exhibitions of the Choreographic Competition of Madrid. After a year and a half, these three artists have also held a number of residencies: from the Finca de la Gomera to the Faber Residency, they have completed great field work encompassing the most specific of life experiences (like agricultural work and direct contact with nature) and the most intellectual of inquiries (like lectures by Muñoz Rojas and the paintings of “The Angelus” by Millet and Dalí), references that enrich their choreography and invite the maturity and nuance of gesture that we will still be able to see at the well-established Sismògraf festival. Each of them constitutes a work, a piece of earth that will become a full piece of choreography, but that in any event already has a life of its own.
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) The Angelus. Between 1857 and 1859
This set of experiences feeds an imagery that they offer us on stage with purity, in which all elements that have been forged over the course of time and that encompass a great movement imagery come together. In it we recognize from the careful movement of the artisans, to the outwardness and intimacy that some tools and work objects like sticks contribute: through pushing, pulling, and grasping movements, the sticks are a simple object that, nevertheless, taste of country, even if we’re in the middle of the city.
That is how “dispositivo Labrat” appears: a structure of guided improvisation that allows both amateurs and professionals to participate in each piece, as if with it they would like to remind the audience that we are all subject to nature today. Other elements like contemplation appear in a similar fashion; they remind us of another speed within the scene, separate from the frenetic velocity that we are accustomed to in cities.
The result is a compendium of movements that offer up exhalations of nature, choreographic paths where we can lose our perspective, paths that are not without spectacularity. It is imagery that reminds us of nature from the artificiality of guided movement but also the artificiality of natural work that intertwines through movement in the bodies of these three dancers, which throughout the performance seem natural, relaxing the tension of the paradox that makes us human until it flows naturally.