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Between Ecstasy and Harmony. Choreography and Video of Beatrice

Ondertusschen so wert minne so ongehmate ende so ouerbrekende in der sielen alse har seluen so starkeleke ende so verwoedelike berurt int herte, dat hare dunct, dat har herte menichfoudeleke wert seere gewont ende dat die wonden dagelix veruerschet werden ende verseert, in smerteliker weelichheiden en de in nuer iegenwordicheiden. Ende so dunct hare dat har adren ontpluken ende hare bloet verwalt ende hare march verswijnt ende hare been vercrencken ende hare borst verbernt ende hare kele verdroget, so dat hare anscijn ende al hare leden gevuelen der hitten van binnen en de des orwoeds van minnen.

In the fifth manner, Beatrice of Narareth – the writer of the short Middle Dutch mystical treatise On the Seven Manners of Holy Love – describes her psychosomatic response to the presence of Divine Love/God. Love rages through her body while her soul is captured in holy ecstasy. Throughout her treatise, Beatrice contemplates the nature of Love using seven manners to capture Her movement, alternating between presence and absence, ecstatic union and agonizing loneliness. In a way, the cycle of presence and absence is harmoniously repetitive, like ebb and flow, like seasons, like holy rituals.This tension between ecstasy and harmony was the main inspiration for both the video and the choreography. 

Jelle Wildiers, Sander Vloebergs – Beatrice

This video was a close collaboration between the video artist, Jelle Wildiers and dancers Sander Vloebergs and Ina Wellens. Therefore, it is suitable to produce one blog post covering both perspectives. The rhythmic alternation between ecstasy and harmony are repeated in both cinematic and choreographic motions. The tension between Apollonial harmony and Dionysiac ecstasy is a theme in the music as well. In order to capture the ecstatic nature of the text, the dancers decided to focus on improvisation, while repeating certain pas de deux phrases which were choreographed and rehearsed in advance to resonate with the harmonic and ordered side of the text. 

The video artist used fragments of the improvisation, fragments that illustrate harmonious repetition that occurseven during moments of ecstatic dance movements. After all, every dancer is bound to his embodied state and his own bodily memory. During improvisation, the dancer plays with familiar bodily patterns and unknown movements which are conjured up by the mood and the environment where the dance takes place. Furthermore, the artists decided to play with repetitive bodily functions such as breathing and blinkingto stress the repetitive nature of human-embodied life. The same use of patterns could be found in human love relationships when two people start to trust their harmonious exchange. These patterns are then again disturbed by moments of rapture, of intense breathing after physical exhaustion or increased heart rate when Love’s arrow strikes.

The artists decided together upon the location for the recording, namely a forest during autumn in order tostrengthen the relation between the video and the repetitive patterns which are beautifully shown by Nature herself. This location allowed for some great colorful contrast between the dark, but warm, tones of the fallen leaves (representing death and harmony) and the white skins of the dancers’ bodies(representing life and movement). In some shots, the whiteness of the body even recalls angelic light while the breathing and the sound of leaves evoke moments of heavenly bliss and harmony. These moments alternate with ecstatic movement, moments that are often presented hyperrealistically by placing the original sound of the recording over the music.

The excessive bodily phenomena, described by Beatrice in her fifth manner and accompanying the ecstatic experience of Love, are projected on Mother Nature’s body. The roots represent the veins which are about to be broken. The dancers’ bodies flash between Nature’s scars, finding love andrepetitively losing it. The images flash by on the vast speed of a beating heart, causing glimpses of ecstasis within the viewer. It is these moments of ecstatic rapture that make us feel alive;these moments of excessive Love keep the heart beating. However, dark tones were kept in the video to accentuate the darkness found within the text and to counter the romantic expectations of the viewer. After all, Love seems to escape our grasp and the threat of loneliness remains. Like Beatrice, the video artist plays with this friction between expectation and his rough visual language to deconstruct harmony and conjure rapture. 

A Story about Light and Space: Christina from the Perspective of a Video Artist

CRISTIANO FERRI

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (KJV John 1:1-5)

The story begins with light, forcing its way through the darkness, through created matter becoming God-in-Man. When the Eternal Word was said eternally, matter was reshaped creating spheres and shapes, spaces and sounds of ineffability, building a majestic cathedral of light, an architectural art piece.

CITY OF LIGHT

Cristiano Ferri is inspired by the story of light, the way it slides over buildings and spheres, the way it is interwoven with air and space, giving air its different textures, creating atmospheres. The artist explores this landscape of textures and spheres and observes; he touches the surfaces with his eyes, trying to grab the interconnectedness of shapes and composing a melody of heavenly movement. Cristiano finds these spaces in cities, playgrounds of light and shapes. Cristiano is drawn towards this urban reality and how it displays a range of emotions. He finds profound beauty in its simplicity: in the interactions between people, in the mini dramas that take place every day, on every locations, in different shades of light. He likes to discover the untold stories, buried in the urban landscape. Ugly or beautiful, cities always tell a story. It is not about aesthetics; the story is about light, and how it touches us, passengers wandering through these mysterious landscapes.

Light changes things, it is everything. It is obvious, concrete, it is the basis. Light can give ideas, it can give you the need to tell a story. Seeing light and what it touches, this is the start of the story. Light is matter, it is the basic material, like the painter has his canvas. (Cristiano Ferri)

light and space.jpeg

CONNECTING THE NARRATIVES

The subject, the passenger, is only part of the story. Cristiano gives priority to the atmosphere which dominates the world of feelings, conjured by light and spheres. The cinematic artist is the bridge figure, connecting the narrative of the passenger subject to the story of light and space. He therefore explores his memory, searching for the right decor to support the story of the subject and he wanders through the atmospheres that impressed him in the past. It is the responsibilities of the artist to give the subject its proper location and its proper light.

THE UNPREDICTABLE DANCE OF LIGHT

Nevertheless, the video artist is only a medium, a vessel. In the end, it is up to the subject and the light to tell the story. At the moment of recording, the artist can only register what happens in front of his eyes/lens. He has to give way to reality unfolding on a made up set; he has to surrender to its will. Reality always brings the element of surprise, of unpredictability. Cristiano says that he never receives the image he initially intended. A writer controls his narrative through words, a painter through carefully attaching layers of paint, but a video artist needs to witness the flux of images flashing before his eyes. According to Cristiano, the video artist needs to be courageous, eager to risk it all and to hunt for images that are present but could disappear in a blink of an eye. It feels like hunting for fragments of eternity in a spacio-temporal continuum.

During the postproduction phase, the video artist can take different directions, every choice determining the final product. Some artists like to manipulate the material (the collected shots) with special effects, giving their own interpretation to reality in a drastic way. Cristiano likes to respect reality’s unpredictability and roughness. He stresses this harshness by using dirty images, dirty movements, noise and contrasts. Images do not have to fit because reality does not fit.

CHRISTINA

Then Christina fled the presence of men with wondrous horror into deserted places, to trees, or the tops of castle or church towers, or any lofty structure. Thinking her to be filled with demons, the people finally managed to capture her with great effort and to bind her with iron chains, and although she endured much suffering and privation, yet she suffered even more from the stench of them. (Christina 9, p. 132)

CHRISTINA’S BODY VS THE CITY OF MEN

When Cristiano read the story of Christina, he was immediately drawn to the strong and graphic imagery in the saint’s vita. He noticed a very strong disconnect between Christina and the outer world, between her and the city where she lived as an outcast. She created a physical and mental distance between her and the villagers, always looking for places where humanity could not reach her, where she could only be touched by God. The vita focuses primarily on Christina and in a lesser extent on her interactions with the outer world. Nevertheless, it says very little about the saint’s inner struggles. Cristiano noticed that the vita does not allow the reader to know Christina on a personal and intimate level. This made the task of interpreting her vita firsthand very difficult.

She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. (Christina 35, p. 145)

The artist was inspired to use the shock, the experience of alienation, to enter Christina’s world. He searches for the disruption in the image created by the tension between the choreography with its drama and the body and mind of Christina. By using a close-up, the story of the choreography is interrupted and a vagueness is created that does not allow the viewer to perceive the dancer’s body and predict its movements. To get to know the character Christina, one needs to engage in the constant switch between close-up and wide shot, a choreography orchestrated by the camera, representing Christina’s extravagant bodily presence. This switch introduces its own movement that contradicts the static and perfect view point of the camera. Cristiano opted for a change of camera perspective, and not a change of locations. This was also a possibility, but it did not work on screen. Sometimes reality dictates what one must do.

LIGHT AND DARK

The artist chose to record Christina at sunrise. We would start the recording one hour before the sun reached the surface of the body. The sunrise created the right atmosphere, it embraces the space with joy and warmth. Cristiano decided to show the joyful side of Christina’s live, her strange but weirdly peaceful relation to the world. The sunset would have introduced a dark element in the art piece, a darkness which is already very present in the life of Christina.

The dark element of Christina’s suffering body is introduced by the drama of the dance itself, which takes place on the hard and cold surface of the city’s concrete. Although the dance takes place at the beautiful spacious location of the terrace of the Brussels’ Palace of Justice, its rough circumstances make suffering and bodily pain inevitable The body’s relation to the city is made painfully present in the video. A harsh confrontation between the two is orchestrated on scene during which Christina’s body is invoked. Nevertheless, the openness of the view excludes the feeling of oppression and limitation a city often creates. In this video, the city and its history creates a nostalgic atmosphere, it makes the past present in the here and now. This contextualization of the body in its history smoothens the harsh contrast created between stone and flesh. The last ailment of the wounded dancing body is the light coming in when the movements slow down towards the end. This unexpected ray of light surprised us and lighted up the dance and the video. In a way the simple ray of light that caressing the dancer’s hand even feels mystical. The story ends where it began, with light.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos).

Also see the blog posts on the dance and music of CHRISTINA – Project 1