Six seated persons. Their bodies have the word. Their “becoming together” is announced through an unstable language, an English with particular sonorities. Their communication capacities are constantly challenged. They float between transparency and opacity; they exercise themselves between the knots weaving, suspended by a thread. How to exercise the theatrical situation until exhaustion? To choose a language that is common to us, but that we do not dominate. The “here and now” that we look for is so lengthened that there is no longer a belonging. It is destroyed. We always restart, without ever returning to the same point.
A light and recalcitrant work, Vera Mantero and five performers explore a single proposition that revolves almost completely around language, or better around speech, but also mumbling, grumbling, growling, meowing, humming, stammering and singing. Gestures and dance emerge where the body transforms into an ear or a peculiar soundboard. The piece embraces with theatrical joy an (im)probable future social body and doesn’t shun from the literal or kitsch. Language as a possibility to say ‘we’ and thereby affirm or ‘speak out’ the actual difference of the world we live in – on a political level the work reminds me of JeanLuc Nancy’s writings. Since collaboration and creation are a social process itself, The extreme exercise has travelled a great distance between its première in Brest and the performances in Brussels: from a strict version that stresses the group as an outlandish choreographic machine, to a loose, ‘juicy’ one that takes as a point of departure the performer’s freedom in dialogue with the public, as yet another social body. Yet potentially it still commutes between these two extremes, voicing the lingering energies and imaginations of a vast spectrum.
“Almost unisono, but with different accents and facial expressions, they hold a speech about profound and banal ideas alike, without any distinction. No wonder that even after one hour they don’t reach a conclusion. Because of that, the only aim of this piece seems to be to celebrate the bare fact that public and performers are together, contemplating each other. “We are a group, you are a group...” returns as a refrain in the mash of words. As such, the acting of the six performers, their eccentric dresses and the way the public reacts to all this “make” the piece... ...the speech itself does not take place in an indifferent space but on a stage. And a stage is different from a street or a square. It is an empty space, without preconceived meanings or uses, but that is exactly why it arouses great expectations. When the curtain goes up we expect that everything that is there to be seen has a Meaning with a large M. Nobody stumbles on a stage like as they would do on the street. Certainly not if the title of the piece announces such concerns as the Death of God or “the extreme exercise of Beauty”. Now, this is of course a grotesque speech. Who has still anything significant to add after all that has already been said or written about this? Don't we postulate the terms of God and Beauty above all to seal a breach in our worldview? Are these therefore not empty spaces, onto which everyone projects, after his own taste, his own “meaning of life”? The empty space of the stage meets in Vera Mantero’s work the empty space of words: she takes hold of the emptiness of the stage to hint at the emptiness of any significance. But she does this without despair. The meandering chat that the performers all produce in their own singular way, shows that a group of people “works”, even without God or Beauty. This is the meaning of the casual variant of “we are a group, you are a group...”. All of a sudden it becomes: “we are, you are... a theory, full of life”. Nothing has been proved, but “it works”. Lauro’s mise-en-scène expresses this convincingly. A strong battery of spotlights frames the big stage, and in this way almost reduces the actors to a detail in the bigger picture. A huge brown object, a kind of a deformed globe, fills the emptiness behind them. The tension between the colossal object in the just as colossal emptiness and the mumbling of the performers is what creates meaning. Each by itself means nothing...”
Performance and Co-Creation
Brynjar Bandlien, Loup Abramovici, Marcela Levi, Pascal Quéneau, Antonija Livingstone (now replaced by Andrea Stotter), Vera Mantero
Visual Installation and Costume Design
Life Music and Sound Engineering
Jean-Michel Le Lez
O Rumo do Fumo
Centre Chorégraphique National/Tours; Centre Pompidou - Les Spectacles Vivants / Festival D'Automne/Paris; Culturgest/Lisbon; Le Quartz/Brest; O Espaço do Tempo/Montemor-o-Novo
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian