Cecilia Bengolea brings Jamaican dancehall to Art Basel

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Joseph Dalia Dawood (Financial Times) writes that the Argentine artist “uses her deep engagement” and “deep exploration of Jamaica’s dancehall culture” to explore the boundaries of being human. Cecilia Bengolea’s Art Basel performances take place on September 21, 22 and 24 at 6:00-7:00pm in the Messeplatz, Basel, Switzerland. Here are excerpts; read full article at the Financial Times.

Bodies moving together, floating on water, bouncing to a dancehall beat: that’s the illusion Argentine performance artist and choreographer Cecilia Bengolea hopes to create with her works at Art Basel next week. She also wants visitors to the fair to get involved. “I’m sharing my practice of dance through a series of performances and inviting the audience to join in,” she says over email. “Dancehall artists are amazing teachers and can make people feel transformed.” The Messeplatz outside the conference centre that houses the fair is a vivid display space for installations of all kinds; this year, celebrating the return of the physical fair, live performance is to the fore. The multidisciplinary artist will present an installation that encapsulates her unique approach to melding video, choreography and sculpture alongside her longstanding exploration of Jamaica’s dancehall culture. In one part of the artwork, Bengolea and her collaborators will perform a routine on a platform built over the Messeplatz’s fountain, giving the impression of a dance on water. In another, two dancers — the Ukrainian Katrin Wow and the Jamaican Damion BG — will deliver a scripted conversation in the space, exploring their contrasting perspectives on dancehall: the former considers it a spiritual practice, the latter entertainment.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1979, Bengolea embraced dance in her youth, taking jazz dance lessons at age 12. She says she studied “archaic ritual dances” from South America, but it wasn’t until she visited Jamaica in 2014 that she began to mesh these teachings with the urban moves she encountered there. She came to specialise in one of Jamaica’s emblematic cultural forms from an interest in “dances which have a social function”; for her, the street and ritual dances in Jamaica “transform a community by practising music and dance together”. “Behind each step there is a signification, all the moves have names,” she says. “Jamaican dancers are very inclusive, allowing people from the rest of the world to use their creations. Every audience, even if they don’t know dancehall, can understand the humour behind it, as well as the depth and melancholy.”

Dancehall developed from reggae in the 1970s, with bold beats and explicit moves gaining global popularity. For Bengolea, it represents something visceral in Jamaican culture, where the values of the body politic are examined through the politics of the body. [. . .]

Bengolea’s choreographed bodies have their own language with a limitless vocabulary, which she has based on dancehall’s rhythms. “Jamaican dancers create infinite steps, like a Babel library in constant expansion,” she says, comparing their inexhaustible rhythms to Jorge Luis Borges’s short story The Library of Babel, which imagines an almost-infinite library. Bengolea’s work augments this vision with animated figures that identify with the fluidity of water. Through dance, this concept of the boundless possibilities of movement, our bodies in endless flow, is both freeing and fathomable. [. . .]

For complete article, see  https://www.ft.com/content/5754644a-3d4c-4ca7-950c-95b2c7e23cd3

Discover Cecilia Bengolea’s infinite library of dance steps
Judith Vrancken, Art Basel, September 2021

For more about Cecilia Bengolea, see: https://ceciliabengolea.com/Biography

Charlas con artistas: Cecilia Bengolea
Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, June 25, 2021

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