[Modern Dance] Elenit (2019), Community in a Fantastic Absurd

Elenit, by Euripides Laskaridis // Osmosis, promised architectural modes of light and space, creative costumes, and to be a ‘comedy of the absurd’. This lured me into buying a ticket. It did not disappoint on all these points, but something else happened: I was a lot more touched by this absurd comedy dance theatre than I expected and I left wondering what exactly happened. If I had read more about it beforehand, I might have been less surprised:


A play is not the illustration of an idea but a living organism. It converses with its times and the audience. We seek for meaning in what happens, as well as in the way it happens. In larger and smaller things, for they are all actors. The lights, the performers, the objects, the costumes, the sounds.


Trying to seek for meaning is what is supposed to happen. What do I think happens in Elenit?

A village

Elenit has story qualities. There are characters. There are events. There is a place where people live in a small community, like a village. The protagonist is an expressive lady with curly hair, let’s call her Elenita. She smokes, reads, talks (a lot), sings, and plays a tiny guitar. She speaks in sounds: she does not speak the same language as we do, but it is easy to understand her. All the characters in the village have this in common. We don’t understand them, because they are different beings, they look different, they sound different, they act different than what we are used to. Some of them are grotesque, some unique, absurd or funny. There is a girl that always drops her head on a sack she carries with her, with a loud bang. She apparently falls asleep at random intervals. This repetition is funny and authentic. There is an angry little lady that is a construction worker, popping up everywhere unexpectedly. Comedy! A opera singer with a dangerously huge reptile tail that stamps around with a beautiful voice. Grotesque, but vulnerable. There is a man in a dress suitable for a butcher who practices desirable poses. Funny, but definitely also sweet. A lady that is a personal assistant and overwhelmed and not shy to let us all know about it in loud exclamations. Funny, recognizable. A silent man. Why is he here? We – the public – don’t really know what’s going on, but then again, we do. They are all acting out their being, their sadness, anger, frustration and whining. They show us who they are and what they feel. Each of them is who he or she is. For them their differences are not problematic. They want, aspire, suffer and share it with the world around them. Others sometimes react, and sometimes they don’t although they always show awareness of the other’s communication. Maybe they are like children, but they are not children. They are not easily brushed aside.

Elenita

Masks

The idea that these beings form a community is seen in that they know each other and react and predict some behavior (like with the girl and her falling head), but they also seem to form a community in a more organic, physical way. It is like they belong to one organism. The masks show this in an unusual way. At times the villagers wear the face of one of them as a mask. Masks are often the elimination of your personal essence, to hide yourself, or to become (temporarily) someone or something else. Masks play a role in (festive) rituals, worn on a designated place and time with a designated significance. Without known rules and habits masks can be deeply disturbing. Seeing an entire village wearing your face as a mask would definitely make a good start for a horror story. Why is it not scary in Elenit? Maybe everybody is themselves so much that they can afford to share the face of someone at times, they can afford to take another’s perspective? To make the village sound even more horrific: the villagers also eat one other, limbs sometimes move around, and even this literal communion is not something that tears someone apart, it is not the annihilation of someone, but it seems just part of being there in that world. It is not harming, nor scary, in a strange sense. (However, you probably do want to be careful when encountering them!) Maybe each individual is already more part of an organic collective than we normally assume? The boundaries of the individual are always and already transgressed?

Transgression

Transgressions and references are everywhere in Elenit. It is a genre in between genres: not entirely dance, not entirely theatre. Not entirely comedy, not entirely tragedy. It is absurd but not just for laughs. The references range from Las Meninas to Jurassic Park. There are visual effects; in the costumes, in tricks and with stroboscopic lights and shapes. But there is also a transgression between public and stage. In the end the village waves us goodbye, in the middle Elenita asks us about our problems: “what is your problem?”. However, that is in a song. She sings it. It might be only a song, she might not know the meaning of the words. In the end the line between public and stage becomes much more fluid. Elinita approaches the public with a question, she asks it in her own language and looks at the public. She reaches out her hand. And people around me responded. They used her language and echoed her sounds back. A form of communication started.

I felt this impulse too. I wanted to answer Elenita. But I didn’t recognize this I that wanted to answer. I wanted to scream my lungs out (like the personal assistant in the village but then completely on fire). This startled and unnerved me intensely, because I never scream nor do I feel the need to. Or do I? I didn’t make a sound, and I left the theatre surprised by this unknown impulse inside of me. Why did Elenita cause this?

In interviews about Elenit I read:
We want to electrify the stage with some truth, without knowing what truth is. Life and the world remain an enigma. And this scares and comforts.

Part of me became an enigma watching what happened on stage, and this scared, but didn’t comfort.

Euripides Laskaridis advises:

// and simply surrender to the sensations // without the need to understand

// just wondering what happened HERE… [hand on heart]

// NOT HERE… [hand on head]

I am left wondering what happened here. Maybe I will meet Elenita again, in another shape, in another place and maybe she will invite me once again to feel new feelings. Then I might not be scared by wanting to scream and surrender. Elenita surely would be able to handle it.

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