Giannandrea Poesio

Past the postmodernist

According to a superstition shared by several Mediterranean countries, the frantic buzz of a fly trapped in a room spells the arrival of unpleasant news.

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According to a superstition shared by several Mediterranean countries, the frantic buzz of a fly trapped in a room spells the arrival of unpleasant news. I wonder whether the controversial and multitalented Catalan artist Sol Picó knows that, for in her 2009 El Llac de les Mosques (The Lake of the Flies) the annoying sound is used like a mini-overture. Yet it would not be fair to dismiss as ‘bad news’ this one-hour-long mix of extreme physicality, live music and funny, cheesy theatrical stunts. After all, many in the audience seemed to enjoy the deafening blasts of guitar, percussion and sax, as well as the apparently inconsequential series of puzzling, amusing and even touching images. They also laughed at the frequently ill-translated verbal rants that have become one of Picó’s signature traits, and which punctuated the performance cabaret-style.

In El Llac de les Mosques, the Catalan artist, who introduces herself as a ‘former singer’, revisits what was once upon a time the irreverent and provocative attitude of the early postmodernists. Like them she experiments with breaking a number of well-established conventions, even though in her case it is more a matter of rebreaking something that was broken a long time ago.

Alas, in spite of her commendable efforts, which include a disappearing act in a washing machine, her revisitation of postmodern tenets is not as aggressive or mind-boggling as it could have been. Even her much-hyped interaction with the audience boils down to inviting them on stage to inscribe comments on the casts that she gets plastered in at the end, while looking like a female Christ on the cross. In my view, it is this miscalculated take on vintage postmodernism that lets the whole performance down, for it amounts to neither a proper resuscitation nor a vibrant reinterpretation of artistic canons that, let’s face it, have long passed their sell-by date.

It is true that, unlike the historical mother of postmodern dance, Yvonne Rainer, Picó does not refute or reject pure spectacle and entertainment. Her cleverly showcased feats are all that Rainer condemned in her famous 1965 No Manifesto of new dance-making. The dancing is thus acrobatic, energetic and choreographically elaborate — I do not recall when I last saw flamenco dancing performed on point, with canonical red shoes. Picó, moreover, is a complete theatre animal, who wades mesmerisingly through ballet, show-dancing and singing.

Even with all the structural and stylistic flaws mentioned above, her performance remains utterly captivating, and it is not surprising that so many took to the stage to write on her. But, like many post-postmodernists — and I am sorry for the convoluted definition; dance academics do not seem to have come up with anything better at the moment — she comes across as terribly self-indulgent. The ‘I could not care less’ attitude she projects — together with her dashing partner Valentí Rocamora Torà, the actor Joan Manrique and her band of Mireja Terero, Mercè Ros, Jordi Pegenaute Ferri and Joan Rectoret — looks, at the beginning of the 21st century, dated and phoney. Which is a pity, for there are some excellent moments here and there, such as an unfortunately short-lived tango/capoeira duet between Rocamora Torà and Manrique and the already cited flamenco sequence on point.

According to the programme, El Llac de les Mosques addresses issues relating to gender and mid-life crisis. I wonder how many got the message, though.