“Labyrith”, Ricardo de Paula / Grupo Oito ©Tito Casal

Pausing for Breath in the Maze

Looking for ways out of dense and individualized webs of discrimination, the dance performance “Labyrinth” with choreography by Ricardo de Paula and featuring dancers from the Grupo Oito celebrated its premiere at HAU2 on 14 October 2022.

Having been instructed to sit wherever I like and that I can also change my seat as often as I wish, I walk into the sold-out premiere in HAU2 through garlands of popcorn. The first thing that catches my eye are other dangling constructions, hanging from the ceiling and composed of different materials: patched-together scraps of fabric, hollow plaster body parts, mirrored panels, a red rope net (stage: Sarah Seini). These floating elements divide the theatre into smaller stages, among which the six performers of the Grupo Oito are distributed. Laura Alonso, Caroline Alves, Ruben Nsue, Cintia Rangel, Natalie Riedelsheimer, and Miro Wallner are separated from each other with a variety of barriers and boundaries, each placed on their own individual foundations. Since some of these bases are made of mirrored film, I think of a silver tray. To what or to whom are they being delivered?

A loud whisper can be heard over the loudspeakers, which quickly mingles with sounds made by the dancers dispersed throughout the space: “Don’t look at me!!”—“don’t touch me”—“Forbidden, that’s forbidden!” The utterances come from all sides of the theatre. This, together with the clinking of glass bottles from one corner, and a nasty laugh from the other, leads to a feeling of disorientation. My gaze wanders from one spot to another; it is not possible to take in the event as a whole.

At first, all of the dancers’ faces are hidden—either covered with fabrics (costume: Michelle Ferreira) or obscured by their own limbs, curved in on themselves. Movements that are initially reminiscent of a slow turning-away in shame are exacerbated sporadically to trembling earthquakes. At first sunk into themselves, the dancers increasingly move with open anger, following the urge to smash things to pieces, to throw themselves against limitations, to break out, to let their own bodies fall again and again. Their faces gradually coming to light, they repeat individual patterns. It becomes clear that they are all struggling with different things, no expression the same, no experience alike.

“Labyrinth” conveys, through dance, what it feels like to drive into a dead end. The characteristics of the maze look different for each person, just as the performance looks different from every point of view. Discrimination and violence are not reproduced, but their effects are negotiated. The focus is on the individuals, on the rising anger, and on the search for a way out of the narrow corridors of the labyrinth.

The piece manages to charge the room so emotionally that entering a spiritual natural world is noticeably relaxing—the yellow light from a spot reflects in the mirrors and falls like rays of sun on my nose (light: Raquel Rosilde). The dancers meet for the first time as a group in the middle of the performance space. Their individuality, expressed through recurring gestural patterns, is not lost. However, a grounded force and a spreading pleasure become perceptible. In a ritual of mutual support, the six performers dance with one another and for one other.

The scattered diversity, which had me looking disorientedly but with curiosity from island to island in the first half of the 80-minute dance piece, is concentrated in the second part in the center of the space. The energetic rhythm, which for some viewers is visibly infectious, does not pretend to destroy the labyrinth. Nevertheless, I can sense a strengthening, as one might strengthen themselves with a short break on their journey through the maze.

English translation by Cory Tamler

“Labyrinth” by Ricardo de Paula / Grupo Oito can be seen at HAU Hebbel am Ufer (HAU2) from 14 to 16 October 2022.