Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hans Op de Beeck

Saw a magical film today at the Hirshhorn: Hans Op De Beeck’s “Staging Silence.” The write-up in The Washington Post last Sunday was dismissive -- calling the film “little more than a soothing, innocuous diversion” – but the photo that accompanied the article made me curious to see it for myself.

I think there's a lot to be gleaned from these 22 minutes, particularly for people who are curious about choreography and culture. How can arrangements turn tiny pieces of material into fantastical landscapes? How do we, every day, endow gestures with meaning?

What is particularly eloquent in Op de Beeck’s creation is the way he keeps the hand of the artist visible – I see the fingers pick up and change the scenery, but I still feel transported by the results. The film becomes a path through a city street, a theater, a garden, an office, a park, and then a winter wonderland.

I found myself thinking of choreography even though there are no people, no bodies in the film (only occasional hands rearranging pieces). The brilliance is in the simplicity: the specificity in the arrangements transports me to other places. I thought of powerful performances where each movement was a vital part of a whole. Nothing extra, nothing extraneous.

The film also makes me consider the role we play in the worlds we create, when we press so much importance into some actions and events while virtually ignoring others. The details in the film are crucial, changing simple objects into gorgeous settings, yet making clear that this transformation occurs within us as the artist exposes the construction of each scene. I'm reminded of a line from Dance, Rituals of Experience that says: “Dance changes biology into a metaphor of the spiritual body in much the same way poetry changes words into forms that allow meanings that words normally cannot convey. The most curious thing about any human gesture is its power of insinuation, born of the ability of the body to overcome its inherent materiality.”

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