By Halima Tahan Ferreira*
The Argentinian choreographer Edgardo Mercado has been carrying out his intense activity both locally and internationally. His style is defined by its openness to other disciplines, by its readiness to explore and investigate other fields, such as science and technology. In his work, the dimensions of space, the relationship with the audience and the sense of intimacy are crucial, as this artist is always in search of a dance form engaged in a permanent, creative and human dialogue.
Edgardo Mercado comes, so to speak, from the world of Science; he started out on the path of Physical Science and Mathematics at the University of Buenos Aires. Dance came later. He confesses that he started dancing in the 1990s: “Late, very late, given that we are talking about a profession that requires early training to reach excellence. But even so, I achieved a good technical level; I think because of my strong desire to dance, and a lot of hard—really hard—work. I´m sure that it´s never too late to start doing something that you deeply desire to do.”
Being a dancer, he felt the need to create, to go beyond performing, but in those days, which were the height of the dance-theatre movement, of which he was also part: “I couldn´t understand what were the rules of the game of creation, in terms of dance.”
In 2003, he made a great discovery: the work of the Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin, Moebius Strip, which made him understand that there were many possibilities for creation in dance. Then, a kind of alignment of events took place, as if something finally fit together: he discovered that the mathematical concepts and structures, which he had previously written on paper, could be now displayed in space on the stage; they were like tools to tackle the topics and themes most interesting to him, and gave coherence and meaning to his work. In that moment he started to use “a personal way to approach choreographic creation.”
The re-activation of spaces, the recovery of public space, is one of the main concerns of this Argentinian choreographer, since for him, “this is the natural space for presenting and representing culture.” Since 2012, he has worked with the international interdisciplinary collective TOUCHANDGOREALITY. The mixed group original idea belongs to the Spanish architect María Auxiliadora Gálvez.
How does it work?
“The collective functions by giving workshops and residencies,” says Mercado, “some of which I co-directed; in others, I participated as a remote consultant from Buenos Aires. But another main goal of the collective is to create projects from the utilization of the body in situ and of its expanded perception as a tool for creation. That is where I come in as co-author of several projects in which we are involved, imagining together performative installations or choreographic machines, like the Sunset Expander, a project supported by the EEA (European Economic Area). It consists of a series of installations set up as a network out in the open with the objective of prolonging the sunset in cities where sunlight is scarce.”
The Voices of Silence by the Side of La Plata River
What about local public spaces? How was the interaction with the city of Buenos Aires in his works, and how were those spaces chosen?
”My environmental experience with the urban space started in connection with the Ciudanza Festival, a dance festival which takes place in urban landscapes. It features works of 20 minutes or fewer, and the budget is pretty tight. Generally, the works presented are adaptations of works that had previously opened in conventional halls in the city of Buenos Aires. However, I believe that I was clever enough to put forward my work only when the representation spaces available favored the work, in such a way that it looked as if it had been thought out especially for those specific spaces. As an example, I will mention the piece m o cualidades y variantes de la masa (m or qualities and variants of mass), which was performed by the dancers of the UNA (National University of Arts) dance company at the Parque de la Memoria (Memory Park). I used a terrace with a view of the La Plata River to the side of a big wall with the names of the people who were desaparecidos (disappeared) during the last military dictatorship. There was no external music, the dancers beat on their bodies to produce it, the silences were filled with meaning, more than I had devised, and the space empowered the work and made it grow.”
Rotonda (Roundabout), another of his works created for 15 dancers from the Ballet of the Teatro San Martín, had a second turn out in the open; “it was improved, since the utilization of the space in a circular format allowed the audience to surround it, which completed the idea.”
But his interest in space and architecture can be traced to his first pieces, in the trilogy Tierra de Mandelbrot (Land of Mandelbrot), Plano Difuso (Fuzzy Map), and Argumentos a favor de la oscuridad (Arguments in Favor of Darkness): there, it is possible to see a clear redesign of space: “The light design included video images, fragmenting the stage and the bodies, which, on the other hand, had to respond to that space fragmentation.”
As a matter of fact, Edgardo Mercado is particularly interested in crossing the line between dance and architecture, since in his activity he tries to “find structures of space-time associated to different ideas presented and represented.”
Works in Progress
Since last year, Edgardo Mercado has been developing several performative installations using, in some of them, new technologies or, on the contrary, withdrawing from that universe of ideas by redesigning the initial topology of space only from the performers’ bodies.
In their proposals, the dynamics of the bodies is manifest as an open system of exchange and not as an entity closed in itself. Bodies that are subjected to co-actions but that are also producers of resistance and liberties. Spatial Alterity is one of the works where the choreographer looks to question the relation of the body with the image “through immersions in Virtual Reality, using the technology of the immersion glasses and researching how a virtual space or habitat modifies our patterns of movement in what´s present.” This investigation presented the artist with specific challenges:
“The concept proved a little elusive . . . the device is very powerful and it swallows up any idea like a black hole swallows the light, but to summarize, I’m questioning the body perception.”
This leads him to ask himself what is real:
“Is it the space around us? Is it our body? Both? Neither? Are there degrees of reality and of body? If I look back there seems to be something programmatic in my search in connection with the body, a body that dissolves it limits; becomes body-image, body-information, a body extended by technology, an infinite body infinitely unattainable.”
Another of these works is Teravision, a production which has been designed to be perceived through a mobile phone application, and which was realized jointly with the Argentinian plastic artist Augusto Zanela.
A third one is Topologías para cuerpos infinitamente inconquistables (Topologies for Infinitely Unconquerable Bodies). The research for this project began near Paris, at the Centre National de la Danse (CND) de Pantin, in 2014, and will open in Buenos Aires, in June 2016. Topologias uses a transparent inflatable surface where “the audience participates, both playfully and contemplatively together with 20 performers who enable the experience, redesigning the space with their bodies.”
What is so “unconquerable” about these bodies? What does the term allude to?
“I was referring to the wish for an unattainable body. I dare say that, in general, we think that our humanity is in our flesh, in that which we call body, in the matter of the flesh . . . who knows. . . . I started working on this idea when I was doing a residency in Pantin, where I collaborated with Gabriela Gobbi, an Argentinian dancer who was there working on a master’s degree and her partner was in Argentina. We talked a lot about communication through Skype, about the act of being “present” for the other. She also told me about a colleague who ironed her clothes while connected through skype with her mother in Romania, and about how they could spend many hours without even talking to each other, each doing their housework, but it soothed her to know herself to be in virtual company. Different images, such as these, set up a complex territory in my head, with beings isolated in Wifi bubbles, some of them even alienated and at the same time, so infinitely close.”
Of Conventions and Performance
His path is not marked only by the perspective provided by the works mentioned; he has also worked on conventional pieces, like Historia de un soldado (A Soldier’s Tale).
How do these opposite visions coexist in the whole canvas of his work?
“Generally I direct or codirect my work. In this case, the path that the director of this piece chose was to work with a traditional format, except that only one actor played three parts: the devil, the soldier and the narrator. Then, we can say that on one side were the actors (musicians, dancers, actor), and on the other was the audience. In my own creations, the process is different: everything is progressively constructed as a whole from the beginning, all languages are woven together to achieve one same fabric.”
What does he ask of his dancers in this process?
“I ask them not to build characters, to stay close to who they are, to go a step backwards to see what the performance brings.”
”As to the way of working in the Historia de un soldado, where many elements pre-exist by the time we start work—the music and text by Stravinsky and Ramuz respectively, I initially try to approach their universe. On the other hand, my activity depends on the specific indications of the director on matters, such as which scenes to choreograph. It had been a long time since I had created choreography for the work of another director.”
What was interesting about this work was that it was performed out in the open, in La Boca neighborhood, a popular neighborhood with a strong Italian imprint, at the reopening of the old theatre, Caminito. The show took place in front of PROA, an important contemporary arts center. In each show, the audience was a mix of people from the area, probably unacquainted with the work of Stravinsky, and the ones who came from other parts of the city, the regulars of PROA.
“The strongest connecting points that come up in all the works created are: to have a clear idea of the aesthetics that I want to use, where to stand to start building a space and a set of movements that truly belong to the work.”
The performance has mainly offered other possibilities of connecting with the audience. . . .
“We worked with more proximity, explicitly, making it part of the work itself without having the audience only as spectators. It also allows me to present my ideas in different spaces to the ones traditionally used in dance, bringing my concepts closer to the audience. From the point of view of production, the necessary time and the costs are more within reach of possibility.”
“The dissolution of the boundaries between disciplines is a constant phenomenon in our time. A performance seems to be the natural experience where different art forms converge. What is a performer? The one-way technical demands have given path to a multiplicity of actions, maybe with different degrees of precision, but enriching the experience of the present moment (actions of the ‘here and now’). However, I feel that performance has reached its peak and its moment is now decreasing, and until it peaks again, we will have to observe how it has permeated the arts and other disciplines, changing their outlook, determining them to open themselves to other senses, infusing the conventional spaces with new life, providing fresh air to them.”
But he also considers that “performance comes to confuse us.” How?
“It shows the process as if it were enough. . . ” That is why, speaking of dance in Argentina, he chooses a piece called “Moeraki,” by the very young creators Soares, Castronovo and Di Grazia. He praises these artists “for having the courage to present a finished work, when the fashion in the performativity in dance, in my view, creates misunderstandings, a kind of ‘anything goes’ attitude.”
Performance has allowed for a different relationship, of more proximity with the audience: What is that audience like? What happens to them?
“In Argentinian Contemporary Dance, there is a great gap when we talk about audience, it seems that we can’t escape endogamy,” he comments. Consumers are a reduced group of choreographers and dancers who participate in the same works. And when someone manages to push the limits “they are at fault with art international festivals, with different budgets for promotion, which are the only escape opportunity from this circuit. Since a few years ago, there have been spectators’ training programs . . . but we should go further back . . . and see the place that art, in general terms, and dance in particular, is given in our society.”
“A friend of mine says that dance has stopped; it has stopped moving in order to think. Maybe it is true. I prefer to think that it is preparing itself for a new territory, no longer flat and rigid, suited for ballet shoes, but a dynamic one, in a permanent state of change, striving to grow stronger and mature.”
*Halima Tahan, Ph. D. (Buenos Aires, Argentina), is a writer and critic. At present, she holds the position of director in Ediciones Artes del Sur. She is curator of the program “Rituals of Passage” in the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires. In Cordoba city, Argentina, where she graduated from the National University, she worked as a professor at the National University of Córdoba’s Art School. Her articles have been published in numerous books and magazines in her country and abroad. She is on the Editorial Board of Critical Stages (AICT/IATC).
 Monument to the victims of State Terrorism.