Ismael Ivo

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Ismael Ivo

Article

Dialogue with the body

Born in São Paulo in Brazil, Ismael Ivo is an international star of modern dance and choreography who moves provocatively along the border between dance theatre and expressive dance and is concerned with the taboo on the body in the Western world. After receiving various honours in his hometown São Paulo and studying at the Alvin Ailey Dance Centre in New York, Ivo emigrated in 1985 to Europe, where has worked mainly in Berlin with colleagues like Johann Kresnik and George Tabori and for the House of World Cultures. For more than a decade he was the artistic director of the International Dance Weeks in Vienna, and he was the first Brazilian and black to be made chief choreographer and director of dance drama at the German National Theatre in Weimar. “Francis Bacon” and “Othello” were among his greatest hits of the 90s, and he is currently engaged with his company at the Theatre House in Stuttgart.
“I let movements within me live their own life, not knowing which hand or foot they come from. I place my body at their disposal, so that ideas and movements can act - then I am back at my own roots. It’s like being in trance. I give my body over to the idea, letting the idea work within me without trying to fix anything beforehand. Everyday you go down to the river, but the river is never the same, so you always have to bring new life energy back.” (cited from: Tanz aktuell 7/95) In these words Ismael Ivo, born in São Paulo, tells us what happens to him onstage and what is important to him in his relationship to the dance drama of the Austrian choreographer Johann Kresnik, with whom he scored his greatest international hits in “Francis Bacon” and “Othello”.

Already in Brazil, Ivo tried using dance to reinterpret mythological levels of movement. After going to New York to learn modern dance under Alvin Ailey, where he did not so much study technique as let his body explore a technique, he moved to Europe and turned to expressive dance, which to him was utterly new. Owing to this experience he took more interest in the possibilities of intercultural dialogue than in regional differences. In dancing, Ivo tries existentially to reveal connections open to cultural influences of the most varied kind, so does not wish to be pinned down to his roots: “I’m an expressionist. I’m very near my Brazilian roots, though I don’t care to vaunt them. What keeps me interested in dancing is the question of existence. This magic moment onstage… If there were not this magic moment, in which you feel that you are crossing a certain threshold, that you are really appealing to folk without preaching to them - if there were not this magic moment, there would be no continuity in dancing.” (ibid.)

He defines existence in bodily terms. His existentialism makes him wary of the popular notion of conventions set by a social group as a whole, since he wants to get in touch with his public directly and physically: “Existence, as I see it, is fiction. Existence is Utopia. This involves a faith in life in the sense of transforming moments and relationships, opening new possibilities again and again… I believe in the body, not only in the soul. It’s my present home. And I can try to explore it more and more and to make it more sensitive. I am trying to find a new spatial order, a spatial order from body to body, from dancing to the public… What are the possibilities of communication? The body is an open house of possibilities. It’s so complex that I am always holding a dialogue with it without ever understanding it.” (ibid.)

To Ivo “holding a dialogue” means probing himself to the point of realising “I am the other”. Such a dialogue led to works with the Austrian choreographer Johann Kresnik and his world success “Francis Bacon”, which was premiered in December 1993 in the Theatre House in Stuttgart. In a performance about the depths of human existence Ivo went to his limits, steeping himself in the painful imagery of the Irish painter Francis Bacon with its desecrated, flowing bodies knotted in a turmoil of boxing and sex. His flagrant depictions of his own body, others’ bodies and spatial bodies in “Francis Bacon” are more notable for their powerful physical artistry than for swift movements. “In ‘Bacon’ I exposed myself more radically than ever before. If aware of your own blockages, you find an energy intimately related to the creative, which may lead to a real dialogue you are directly involved in. I question myself instead of just playing a role. For me that is the resource of art, this Utopia of the body and communication.” (ibid.)

At the same time Ivo rejects the accusation from certain critics of narcissism: “When I show what Bacon said, that the body is nothing but bones and flesh, and that’s that, the message gets across to viewers. That’s the moment when I hang as if in a slaughter house. Or the beginning: I am naked onstage and have a fit of asthma. That isn’t very nice. It’s a confrontation with death. How can you call something like that narcissism?... Dancing is based on the body, not on abstractions. You can fly, but only in starting with matter. Firstly you have to go through matter, then you can fly away.” (ibid.)

Critics also cavilled that he was neglecting the dance in dance drama, as in his staging of “Mephisto” in Weimar for its year as the cultural capital of Europe in 1998, but to Ivo pigeon-holes are less important than they are to critics. To him it is all the same whether his work is called dance drama or choreographic drama. He is more interested in its vitality, in the energy flowing into it, having Grotowski and Artaud in mind. So the fact that he has worked for the German National Theatre in Weimar may seem to be paradoxical, but not to Ivo himself: “To Weimar I just said ‘Yes!’ off the cuff… I didn’t know how viewers there would take to my work. My kind of dancing confronts the public with existential feelings, not all of them pleasant. I was greeted with great interest, so I then understood that Weimar is more than traditional, that Weimar was also the cradle of great progressive notions. In preparing my ‘Mephisto’ I discovered the visionary Goethe. He researched into minerals, devised a theory of hues, and put gas lighting up along lanes. He has also bequeathed us cabbalistic formulae which still have to be deciphered. For all his faith in progress he was a mystic, a man full of curiosity and contradictions. His ‘Faust’ touches the essence of modern man deeply.”

At the start of the Goethe year Ivo first staged “Faust” (1999) then in March was enthusiastically applauded as Faust’s nemesis “Mephisto”. In dancing the title role to his own choreography he found impressive images which were intensified by music from composers including Nicolas Lens, Arrigo Boito and Franz Schubert. The director Marcio Aurelio staged the work with means occasionally drastic like the repeated use of searchlights.

”Alien in one’s own Body” (1997) borrowed a notion from Heiner Müller’s “Emigrations to Antonin Artaud”. Artaud was a poet, writer and theatrical visionary who rejected a fixed sexual identity and sought a genuine élan vitale. In his “Theatre of Cruelty” Artaud yearned to cross all borders and to make the anatomy - this "melting cauldron of fire and flesh" – dance, so as to present myth not only symbolically but also “physically and genuinely” through “the mythical action of creating a body”. To Artaud drama is ritual and magical, an act of transgression meaningful in itself. Whenever Ivo draws on the rituals at his Afro-Brazilian roots, he moves closer to Artaud.

These kinds of rituals are also related to Ivo’s Genet project “The Maids” (2001). Jean Genet rejected European drama in its current form, calling for it to become "ritualized like Chinese opera or Balinese drama". “The Maids” brought together unusual men, who in drama are finding their own complex ways between cultures. One of them, Yoshi Oida, is as influenced by European modernism as by the great Japanese teachings about drama. He is as familiar with the dramatic methods of Grotowski and Brook as he is with the experiences of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Another of them, Koffi Kôkô, a priest in the voodoo cults of his homeland Benin, works as a contemporary choreographer in Paris. Together with Ismael Ivo they formed a highly skilled group, whose performances sprang from more than a single root. They see themselves as moving forward between ritual forms and the language of contemporary drama and share a vision of "existential drama" beyond modes and routine competence. This in itself sets them apart from the Western tradition of illusive drama with its psychological variants. Each of these three artists, respectively from Brazil, Japan and Benin, is seeking in his own way a universal language of drama to express his culturally influenced sense of the body in new ways.

Ismael Ivo shares Jean Genet’s radicalism. Having already turned to Pasolini, Bacon, Artaud and Heiner Müller, he turned to Genet as a matter of course. Just as Yoshi Oida explored the splits in awareness of Oliver Sack’s patients (“L’Homme Qui”, staged by Peter Brook), the Brazilian dancer explored the limits of human existence. To Koffi Kôkô, whose spiritual home is animism, the fringe of human awareness offers key insights. Genet’s ritual murder spurred Koffi Kôkô and Yoshi Oida on to create metaphysical drama.

Yoshi Oika claims: “Christianity finds its way to spirituality through castigating the body, through purification and denial of sexuality. As seen from this point of view, Genet puts the body in an immoral position. He accepts all forms of physical desire and goes through the body’s filth. He is no Christian priest castigating the body. He goes through its cruelty, through its flesh to spirituality, to freedom, to freedom in death.”

Ismael Ivo adds: “Genet always treated death in terms of the body as he saw it. Death was his standpoint in viewing life, the standpoint of the repressed, the underdog, the rejected. He had no wish to destroy the body but only to show things in another perspective, in terms of the structures of power and social repression.”

The starting point of their work was the 15 minute film “Chanson d´Amour” by Genet himself. This silent film shows two jailbirds in love with each other but cooped up in neighbouring cells. Unable to see each other, they keep in touch by pushing a straw through a hole in the wall and blowing cigarette smoke through it, from one pair of lungs to the other. The wall is overcome only by breath, imagination and memory. The jail stands for society and its moral and political order, and the jailed bodies for physical desire. “Genet feels jailed, but the walls are commonplace and not insuperable. The relationship overcomes them.” (Koffi Kôkô)

With “The Maids” Ismael Ivo created an aesthetic whose sources are to be found in many cultures but whose alien traditions of drama are stripped of exoticism. In going beyond ritual it creates contemporary drama for many cultures.

Bio

In his native São Paulo, Ismael Ivo studied acting and dance and received an award as best solo dancer. In 1983 Alvin Ailey invited him to New York to join the famous Alvin Ailey Company. Since 1985 Ismael Ivo has lived in Germany, mainly in Berlin, developing a close cooperation with Johann Kresnik that has led to such internationally-acclaimed theater productions as "Francis Bacon" and "Othello". He has also collaborated with Ushi Amagutsu, George Tabori, Marcio Aurellio and Marica Haydée. Fused with his Brazilian roots, this wide range of experiences produces works such as "Delirium of a childhood", "Babel", "Tristan and Isolde" and "The Maids". From 1996 to 2000 Ismael Ivo was the director of the dance theater at the Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar. For more than ten years he has also acted as the artistic director of the festival Internationale Tanzwochen Wien.

Works

Illuminata

Production / Performance,
2006

Galinhas

Production / Performance,
2006

Erendira

Production / Performance,
2005

The Tempest

Production / Performance,
2004

Olhos D´agua

Production / Performance,
2004

Black Atlantic City Bus Tour

Production / Performance,
2004

Naked Hamlet

Production / Performance,
2004

Fragments

Production / Performance,
2003

Mapplethorpe

Production / Performance,
2002

M. - wie Callas

Production / Performance,
2002

Medea

Production / Performance,
2001

Die Zofen

Production / Performance,
2001

Ödipus

Production / Performance,
2001

Babel

Production / Performance,
2000

Aura

Production / Performance,
2000

Floresta do Amazonas

Production / Performance,
2000

Ariadne

Production / Performance,
1999

Soli Bach

Established,
1999

Mephisto

Production / Performance,
1999

Das Leichenbegräbnis der Großen Mama

Production / Performance,
1999

Dionysos

Production / Performance,
1999

Tristan und Isolde

Production / Performance,
1999

Callas

Production / Performance,
1998

Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant

Production / Performance,
1998

Kuss im Rinnstein

Production / Performance,
1998

Der nackte Michelangelo

Production / Performance,
1998

Medea-Material

Production / Performance,
1998

A Brief History of Hell

Production / Performance,
1997

Fremd im eigenen Körper

Published Written,
1997

Othello

Production / Performance,
1996

Moses und Aron

Production / Performance,
1994

Labyrinthos

Production / Performance,
1993

Mars

Production / Performance,
1993

Francis Bacon

Production / Performance,
1993

Die kreisrunden Ruinen

Production / Performance,
1991

An Angel or the Old Dream of Flying

Production / Performance,
1991

Delirium of a Childhood

Production / Performance,
1989

Apocalypse

Production / Performance,
1989

Sacre du printemps

Production / Performance,
1987

Under Skin

Production / Performance,
1987

Phoenix

Production / Performance,
1985

Discords for a Woman

Production / Performance,
1984

Creatures of the Night

Production / Performance,
1984

Artaud, Artaud

Production / Performance,
1984

Young Blood

Production / Performance,
1983

Clara Crocodilo

Production / Performance,
1982

Ritual of a Body in Moon

Production / Performance,
1980

Cartas Portugesas

Exhibition / Installation,
1978

Pegasus Celebration

Production / Performance,
1978

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

IN TRANSIT 06

Dance - Performance - Music

(24 May 06 - 04 June 06)

Black Atlantic

(17 September 04 - 15 November 04)

IN TRANSIT 2003

Customs – Nothing to declare

(30 May 03 - 14 June 03)

The Maids

Dancetheatre on o piece by Jean Genet

(07 April 01 - 09 April 01)
video

Interview with Ivo Ismael

play video

"Mapplethorpe" at IN TRANSIT 2003

play video