Image is everything† And sometimes image is all there is. On paper, the performances by the American Trajal Harrell are extremely urgent: they are about race and class, gender, self-expression, emancipation, inclusiveness and discrimination, ‘high’ and ‘low’ art and so on. the triptych Porca miseriawhich will be played consecutively for the first time during the Holland Festival, also honors three strong women (or ‘bitches’, after the honorary title from the ballroom and vogue scene): the American Katherine Dunham, who worked for the development of the ‘black ‘ contemporary dance has been of enormous importance in America, the infamous sorceress Medea, who, consumed with grief and revenge, killed her children and ‘Maggie the Cat’ from Tennessee William’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof†
On stage, however, little of all that can be seen, and that little is above all much of the same. The film O Medea stands out because of the shape. It is an artistic, old-fashioned film, in which Harrell interprets Medea’s murder of her children as an attack on the classic female image of mother and lover. His translation to film mainly looks like an ostentatiously grieving mother and lover.
Japanese tea ceremony
In Deathbed and Maggie the Catparts one and three, the performers frequently parade on tiptoe and hip-swaying like catwalk models in experimental outfits, from non-parliamentary tied garments to comfortable sofa cushions. Deathbed adds a Japanese tea ceremony and the slowness of butoh dance to Harrell’s mix of ballroom, vogue and postmodern style elements such as fragmentation, object manipulation, task-oriented actions and the like.
All in all, it’s quite a stack, but the why remains obscure. For any idea of Harrell’s intentions, a reading of the program notes is necessary and, moreover, that is a considerably more interesting use of time. Why Harrell has been the trendsetter at international festivals over the past ten years or so is explained in this rather than on the stage.