On a sunny afternoon in central Bogotá, we sent Oliver Pritchard down to the Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño to see a preview of A Dance Tribute to Ping Pong by the Jo Strømgren Kompani
The lights go down, and the stage shrinks to illuminate a solitary woman, sprawled on the floor waiting. Silently, three men approach her before all four launch into a stylised piece which culminates in the woman being launched offstage. Before that, the company treated us to a thrillingly high-octane passage featuring high kicks and swinging around until the dancers collapsed, almost literally exhausted. Two very different pieces of dance, but both filled with symbolism and high style.
After the performance, I spoke quickly to the affable and eloquent Jan Nicolai Wesnes, one of the key dancers from the show, who explained the idea for the piece: “In 1998 the company did a tribute to football, and this is not a sequel but a follow up. We wanted a new sport, but something that’s big, and international. But what? Ping pong, because it’s so widely played across the world, especially in China, where most of the people are. The idea was seated there, that it’s so universal. Then the next step was ‘can we make dance out of these actions, how can we work with the ball?’”
What’s new about this show, compared to the football piece, is that there’s a puppet involved. A strange idea you might think, but it all makes sense as Jan lays out the structure for us: “There is a puppet who is a ping pong master, he controls us through the show and imparts these wise ideas to us ‘life is divided like a pingpong table’, that sort of thing.” I feel foolish, having described the show as light/hearted and irreverent, but Jan quickly puts me at ease, “That’s the comedy element, we all as dancers take it very seriously, so it’s like a satire on this attempt to find meaning. It’s not a big statement, but it has that idea. He gives us all these lessons and that allows us to have these different parts to the show, but he pulls it all together, a kind of red thread to the story.”
Jan’s passion is infectious and engaging when it comes to the subject of the festival itself: “The company had wanted to come here for a long time”, he tells me, “it’s such a big festival, so famous. We had two works under consideration, The Writer and this show.”
He continues, “We’re all really happy of course, us dancers, very happy to be here because we’re not full time employees”.
“We met the director of the festival at the embassy last night and she was really enthusiastic about her plans for the future and what they want to do with the festival.” He enthuses, “It’s about exploring wider issues, and we have a bit of that too, at the end when the puppet takes advantage of our gullibility. It’s a fundamental part of art, to comment on things that affect us”.
One wonders how a professional contemporary dancer might feel about being a country like Colombia that is so soaked in social dancing, and I ask Jan if he’ll have time to get down on the dancefloor later, “Hahahhaa, yes, maybe. You know, that’s a time when you feel very Norwegian, when you do Latin dance. We need to drink more than the average Colombian to feel comfortable I think, doing that. Let’s see, it could be nice. That’s the great thing about traveling, seeing how other countries do their thing, their interpretations of things, and what they do with the basic things.”
A Dance Tribute to Ping Pong looks like an unmissable event, even in such a quality lineup as FITB features this year. At times furiously kinetic and passionate, at others slow and sensual, the show is always a treat for the eyes and a wonder of human movement.
March 23 – 8.30pm, March 24 – 8.30pm, March 25 – 6.30pm, March 26 – 3.30pm and 8.30pm
Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño
Calle 10 #3-16