“Rhythm Is The Place”, Juan Domínguez ©Dieter Hartwig

A Committed Sense of Rhythm

“Rhythm Is The Place” certainly has a sense of humour. Developed by clown-cowboy-dancer Juan Domínguez at Radialsystem and viewed on 16 February 2023, the performance has an array of eccentric and esoteric nods and winks – almost as if the performer is undertaking some kind of deadpan dad joke.

The show begins in haze, with only a crackle and pop of the speaker (Sound: Carola Caggiano) hinting at some kind of underwater feeling. A bare stage contains only a pair of green and purple screens, which are bathed in light intermittently for about 10 minutes of stage time, as though winking at us. As the sound starts to rhythmically stutter and crackle out, the performer appears in a cap and tassel outfit, and begins a half-jig, half sway to the clicks and pops. Domínguez begins to slide or shift around meditatively, and as a homorythmic clicking finally replaces the intermittent soundscape, blending only with the soft padding of the artist’s footwear and the occasional creak of Radialsystem’s stage-boards.

If it sounds like an unassuming opening, it is, and this is largely followed up by the rest of the performance. A haze machine is wheeled out dismissively by the performer, who smokes the rear-stage screens to the point where only the feet of the dancer are visible. The pair of feet shuffle around a bit, skipping and hopping. Sitting in this concentrated space gives you a lot of time to think, and you can’t help but admire the artist’s steadfast commitment to the concept: Rhythm IThe Place is nominally an exploration of “space and time” and “social potential of live performance”. Some audience members were obviously feeling anti-social on opening night, and not everyone saw the ending. Is it a joke? A prank? If it is, then Rhythm IThe Place seems to have a deadly serious core, equally attentive to what it not present, and to the entertainment demands of the audience, which are largely rejected in favour of a situation and spatial focus. Playing as much for an audience of invisible spectators as real ones, Domínguez threatens several expectations of the stage simultaneously in a series of uncomfortable moments, our own attention acknowledged by the oddly spectacular ending in a glitter costume and oddly-placed blanket.

But is it any good? The details are important for such a work, which operates in uncommon performance gestures such as hesitation, interruption, or more musically perhaps, a sense of momentum, rests, and shifts in tempo. This attention to rhythm is a genuine feature of the piece and worth noting, even if the result does not communicate in a stage language the audience is necessarily familiar with or can find pleasure in. Domínguez however conducts a genuine and committed investigation of rhythm, deeply engaged in musicological understandings of time and place, and expressed in the body as a series of suggestions or questions. The result won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a rare and unique offering – where the potential exists for new directions in stage language, here completely in line with the intentions of the artist, and using the opportunity of the stage to break new ground.

“Rhythm Is The Place by Juan Domínguez premiered at Radialsystem on 16 February 2023 (Performance: Juan Domínguez / Jaime Llopis. Artistic Companion: Arantxa Martínez, Julia Rodríguez. Light Design: Catalina Fernández. Sound Design: Carola Caggiano. Costume: Jorge Dutor. Production Manager: Annika Stadler).

The performance is presented on 18 February at 8pm and on 19 February at 6pm as part of the collaboration :LOVE: between Tanzfabrik Berlin and Radialsystem in Radialsystem’s spaces, further information and tickets at radialsystem.de.