„Bicho Raro“, Danilo Andrés ©Kimberly Lauren Bryan

Strange Mutations

TANZTAGE BERLIN 2023 >>> On 10 & 11 December 2022 at Flutgraben, “Bicho Raro”, a video and performance work by dancer and choreographer Danilo Andrés, examined the strange world of bodybuilding. Another version of the piece will be shown under the same title during the Tanztage Berlin festival in January 2023.

“Imagine that your body does not exist anymore.” The creature who speaks this and similar sentences and, with each statement, shows off their muscles anew, is wearing high heeled sneakers, a black harness, and artificial eyelashes. Their face glistens white, turquoise, and purple, and their body, whose existence does not seem to be particularly endangered, shines in dark pink—the “pink universal” of the flesh that lies under every body’s skin, to borrow the words of writer Andrea Long Chu. The full-body painting recalls the fact that bodybuilders often apply a bronze-colored spray before competitions to give their muscles additional contour—however, the pink hue seems to blur the creature’s muscles. A literal definition of the body, which is then immediately thrown into question? While the spoken words slowly dissolve into para-verbal sounds, I wonder whether the body that no longer exists is a bodybuilder’s dream or nightmare.

Bodybuilding is a difficult terrain to map, one in which self-care can transform imperceptibly into autoaggression, in which you find regions of empowerment as well as subjugation, in which patriarchy is cemented and undermined at the same time. These are the ambivalences that dancer and choreographer Danilo Andrés explores in their performative installation “Bicho Raro”. Two large screens stand on either side of Flutgraben’s multi-purpose hall like the goals on a soccer field; between them is a pommel horse and a free-standing bar stabilized with dumbbells (set design: Moran Sanderovich). Both apparatuses are partially coated with a wax-like substance and colored in turquoise, pink, and white, as if they are fleshy prostheses of the pink body, which with their help could at any time grow even bigger. Or is the nearly naked body, which seems impervious to the cold of the unheated space, made of metal, wood, and leather beneath its luminous surface? Two sound stations are set up on the sidelines, and the cables belonging to two microphones stretch across the field. From time to time, the microphones inorganically multiply the room’s organic echoes (sound design: Mad Kate – electronics/voice, Sara Neidorf – drums). And the competitors on “Bicho Raro’s” sports field are a wide, confusing array of associations.

The work consists of a two-channel video installation, which is interrupted twice by short performances. The individual components approach the phenomenon of bodybuilding from various directions and thereby reveal more general questions about the nature of the exercising body. In the first performance, which appears to be a body installation, Andrés seems to be trapped in an endless loop of push-ups, pull-ups, and abdominal presses. Every place in the room calls for a new exercise, every object becomes a training device. Here, a world opens up in which all states of being seem to have been forgotten apart from the drill. Andrés demonstrates that even in a completely exhausted body tiny particles of energy still flicker, which can be mobilized into chin-ups.

In the second short performance, by contrast, the formerly machine-like body statue comes to life. In a physical-aural ritual, in which the creature rediscovers movements beyond monotonous repetition and vocalizations beyond tortured moans, the potential of the human body for infinitely many modes of existence is revealed: While Andrés screams, laughs, roars, and sings, and their movements increasingly come to resemble dancing, they stagger back and forth between exhaustion, excitement, and despair.

In the video work framing the performances (video installation: Peter Bromme, Paulo Fernandez), Andrés is seen as a four-armed mystical being, as well as a monstrous android whose artificial skin detaches itself from its face as white fluid runs out of its mouth (make-up: Queen of Virginity, Danilo Andrés). Is bodybuilding more like becoming a god, a machine—or, as the title of the evening might suggest, an animal? The work opens up too many and too contradictory associative spaces to arrive at a clear answer, beginning with the title itself. “Bicho” can be translated as “beast”, “comrade”, or “mistake”, while “Bicho Raro” can also mean “weirdo”. In the course of the four hours of the evening it becomes more and more apparent that the pink creature actually has no interest whatsoever in the question raised, early on, about the hypothetical non-existence of the body. Rather, the work shows all sorts of concrete, physical, strange mutations which the world of bodybuilding makes possible.

English translation by Cory Tamler

“Bicho Raro” – video installation and performance by and with Danilo Andrés was shown at Flutgraben on 10 & 11 December 2022. The ongoing research, which Danilo Andrés previously presented in the form of a video installation and a queer gymnastics class, will be seen as a performance on 19 & 20 January 2023 at 7:00 pm as part of Tanztage Berlin 2023 (5 – 21 January). You find the festival program and ticket info at tanztage-berlin.sophiensaele.com.