In Between Time presents Doris Uhlich: More Than Enough
Arnolfini, 16 Narrow Quay Bay, Bristol, Avon, BS1 4QA
1 November 2013
Review by Rowan Lear
One has the athletic, lithe body that might be expected of a professional dancer. The other has a rounded, fleshy physique, topped by a bountiful beehive of jet-black hair. The two dancers lunge, swoop, fall, roll and spin in unison. Each body keeps perfect time with the other, in a physical and visceral display. At an unseen signal the dancers halt, sweat glistening, and heavy breathing fills the silent auditorium. The stage is set for an extraordinary show.
The opening sequence that Doris Uhlich performs with French dancer Virginie Roy-Nigl creates an energetic, expository frame for the event. Their bodies are equally capable of the challenging choreography: why should they be treated any differently’
The question is addressed in a somewhat unconventional performance, in which we spend less time watching dancing than listening in on live phone calls. On a vintage telephone, Uhlich speaks candidly to a number of guests about their bodies and their ideas of beauty. Memorably, Susanne Kirnbauer, retired first solo dancer of the Vienna Opera and now in her seventies, describes how she maintains a strict exercise and eating regime, and how, for her, the perfect dancer is always ‘skinny, very skinny’.
In her self-proclaimed ‘corpulent’ body, Uhlich utterly captivates from the moment she stalks onto the stage dressed casually in jeans and shirt, to when she unceremoniously strips. Naked, she stands and looks at the audience with defiant, unaggressive honesty. She shows us a body that gazes back at its viewer: a body that does not look like a dancer’s, but which has power, and agency.
On the contrary, her partner’s beautiful body is perforated by fear and anxiety. In a moving speech, Roy-Nigl speaks of a failed audition for De Keersmaeker’s dance company Rosas, and of her creeping dread that her body is aging, losing flexibility and will soon be unable to perform.
The show is punctuated by extracts from Baudelaire’s ‘Hymn to Beauty’, with Uhlich speaking in stilted French and Roy-Nigl attempting to translate the complex stanzas into English. These moments are not without humour, as the two dancers gamely bounce translations back and forth, but begin to detract from the otherwise immaculate pacing.
But there is something critical in their tussling with the text. Walter Benjamin, in his introduction to a German translation of Baudelaire, famously wrote, ‘It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.’ Struggling to convey the intricacies of beauty in spoken word, the dancers turn to movement.
And it is the undoubted climax of the piece when Uhlich discovers euphoric translation in the language of her body. Spotlit, she sprinkles lavish clouds of talcum powder onto her naked thighs, back and buttocks. Vivaldi’s Winter finds its home in the rhythmic movements of Uhlich’s flesh, as she quivers and trembles, sending snowstorms with a flick of a wrist. At the dramatic conclusion of the dance, a stunned audience erupt into spontaneous applause.
Uhlich’s concluding words lend her own interpretation of Hymn to Beauty: ‘You are beautiful if you make the world a less dangerous place and the minutes less long.’ Her final, fierce address is an emphatic appeal to the audience: to empower our bodies and change the way we think about beauty.