On the Duality of Language: Foreign Tongues by Liquid Loft

by Winfield Maben for The Dance Journal

On Wednesday, March 11th Austrian dance company Liquid Loft brought their work Foreign Tongues to the Kimmel Center. The work traveled throughout the center’s Commonwealth Plaza and eventually moved into the Perelman Theater where audience members were encouraged to walk about the space to take in the performance from a variety of angles. Mainly concerned with the intersection of sound and movement, the performance consisted of company members dressed head to toe in black who carried Bluetooth speakers which emitted ambient noises and speech from a variety of different languages.

Upon entering the Perelman Theater the audience is met with a bizarre sight as dancers are posed around the open space with various articles of clothing placed on their bodies in a way that twists and distorts their form. The audience is allowed to roam the theater, like a living art gallery, and observe the macabre sculptures the performers have crafted with their bodies. Slowly, one by one they begin to move; at first abstractly and in synch with the sound coming from each of their speakers. Then their humanity emerges as each dancer slowly unravels themselves, revealing their human form.

The interaction with the sounds produced by each speaker plays a vital role in how the choreography is performed. Slow, creaking noises prompt suspended reaching movements, quick sharp bursts of speech send the performers into rapid glitch-like frenzies, and the sloshing of fluid sees them moving around the space as an amorphous human blob. The entire performance is structured in waves, often starting with one or two dancers moving together or separated from one another, then escalating as more and more of the group began to move and produce sound, finally climaxing in a chaotic cacophony of noise and motion before settling to stillness and starting again.

Often the fact that different things are happening all over the space simultaneously creates a sense of anxiety or panic as the audience’s attention is pulled in several different directions at once. This is hardly a bad thing. In fact, this sense of anxiety serves to heighten the tense chaotic atmosphere of the work; keeping things unpredictable as the audience desperately tries to keep up with the performers.

Between bouts of choreography, the performers melt back into the crowd, going incognito until their next appearance. The subtlety with which this is done is impressive as even when the audience knows they’re sure to appear again it’s always startling when they do. Again this lends itself to the chaotic nature of the work as when the audience’s attention is being pulled in so many directions at once it’s often difficult to spot a dancer moving into position right in front of you. The effect of a performer bursting into sound and motion from relative stillness is startling and effective. More than once a fellow audience member jumped, gasped, or made some other verbal exclamation in these moments which serve to further immerse them in the world put on by the dancers.

One theme which is carried throughout the work is the isolating power of language. Demonstrated not only in the grotesque, unnatural shapes the performers often contorted their bodies into but also in the experience of being an audience member within the work. Having someone approach you, gesturing wildly and speaking a language you don’t understand is incredibly othering and places one in a certain state of mind. This is yet another factor that adds to the general anxiety of the work.

However, a moment of breakthrough occurs when all of a sudden a voice that sounds familiar can be heard. It’s a resident of Philadelphia, talking about Broad Street and the El. Another voice is talking about her pet cat and a third is complaining about his roommates. These dashes of familiarity amidst the alienating chaos of the work shines a light on the flip-side of language. Language can be an alienating, othering factor. But it can also instill a sense of familiarity and camaraderie in people. We can relate to things like bad roommates or loving our pets and the introduction of this element begs the question of whether maybe we could have related to those strange, alienating voices had we just taken the time to learn and listen.

Despite the chaos and anxiety surrounding the work, these final moments resonate with a sense of humanity that breaks down the barrier created by the very same construct that put them in place. By exploring the duality of language through movement Liquid Loft demonstrates theme through experience; thrusting the audience into the middle of a noisy and chaotic world only to rescue them from it with the blanket of familiarity. And, as the lights go out the sense that something has been learned and discovered permeates the space.

 

About Winfield Maben

Winfield Maben is a Philadelphia based writer and dancer and an aspiring member of the greater Philadelphia area dance community. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a BA in Dance & English and has previously conducted several features for the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange. He has worked with several established choreographers including Tiffany Mills, Sharon Vazanna, and Trinette Singleton and has performed in a variety of unique locations including Triskelion Arts (Brooklyn, NY), ArtisTree (Pomfret, VT), and the Brooklyn Bridge. Winfield aims to explore the art of dance through the multidisciplinary approach that was emphasized in his education, not only examining the physicality of a given work but also the intentionality and cultural impact of the work as a whole.

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