MINNEAPOLIS — There are some performers who are so focused, so attentive, so magnetic, that they could just stand on stage, not even moving, and still keep an audience rapt. Florencia Vecino is such a performer. In “Maneries,” choreographed by Luis Garay and presented at the Walker Art Center in April, Vecino delivered a tour de force solo performance, conveying a ritualistic stripping down of artifice.
The work began in almost complete darkness, save only the tiny aisle lights in the audience, which had been dimmed for the performance. As Vecino started to move, a muted spotlight illuminated her athletic body, dressed in soccer shorts, a sports bra, and running shoes, while a little way off, DJ Mauro Panzillo provided a thumping and ringing accompaniment.
Designed by Edu Maggiolo, the lighting played the role of editor in the work. From the beginning, when you could barely see the dancer on account of the dimmed light, to later sections where the light served as a way to dictate not only where but how Vecino moved, it both manipulated and propelled the staging. At one point, the audience almost became blinded by an enormous backlight; at another, Vecino became trapped inside a rectangle of light, where she walked back and forth like a prisoner contained in a small space.
There were moments when Vecino’s movements were so slow or imperceptible that she had the appearance of stillness — or, rather, the feeling of stillness, when in fact she moved constantly throughout the 70-minute performance. Garay’s choreography employed a great deal of small, repetitive gestures and body isolations that demonstrated Vecino’s incredible ability to move with the utmost specificity.
Garay sets out to free the movement from any convention of traditional choreography. Rather, the piece accumulates its own idiosyncratic vernacular, with movements devoid of the dance vocabulary an audience might read as “dance.” Each athletic, repetitive gesture builds on a sequence of other gestures that, taken in isolation, don’t contain meaning in an obvious way. But meaning has a way of creeping in.
When the female-bodied Vecino stripped off her clothes in a piece that was choreographed by the male Garay, the inevitability of the male gaze revealed itself. Vecino didn’t swish her hips or perform anything that might be read as seductive, or really even feminine, but the fact of a naked female form, and all its associated historical and societal connotations, sprang immediately into play at the moment of her disrobing. At one point she even spread her legs in a V, with her back to the audience, and bent forward, giving the audience a clear view of her vagina. Even in this moment, her intent read as masculine and not erotic, but sensuality exuded from her nonetheless, due to the fact of her female nude body and what that represents in the cannon of Western art and performance. Sometime later she placed her hand over her groin, as if she had only then become aware of her nakedness.
That moment served as an acknowledgment that no matter how much effort goes into detaching a performance of the human body from preconceived notions and social norms, those prejudices continue to exist, coloring the way an audience views and perceives the work. Despite the great lengths Garay went to to transform the body into pure linguistic material, a complete vacuum is impossible.
Luis Garay’s “Manieres” took place at the Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis) on April 21–23.