“UNDERSTANDABLE?” – An exploration of a dance technique by Melissa Marotto

photo by Lila Sotiriou

Jozef Frucek (SK) and Linda Kapetenea (GR) are Rootless Root (2006) a contemporary dance company based in Athens, Greece. Aside from choreographers and performers, they are dance investigators and movement guides, delivering workshops across Europe in their unique style. Frucek’s background is one mixed with theater, martial arts and dance, whereas Kapetenea grew up as a dancer and competitive gymnast. The two met nine years ago in Blush, a project with Wim Vandekeybus’ company, Ultima Vez, and are currently instructors at the Greek State School for Dance. Frucek, a giant in his own right, 90 kilos and standing over two meters tall, speaks with the spirit of a 10 year old on Christmas morning about elemental aspects of life and how they relate to movement and communication. He leads the class with Kapetenea supporting him, simultaneously acting as a ragdoll to the physical explanations of the exercises. She rises to meet his strength and speed after a 6-hour day at ImPulsTanz or in the dustbowl of outdoor Spain at Deltebre Dansa in high summer. This style is not for the weak of heart, and Kapetenea and Frucek demonstrate this by example.

The pair’s movement methodology, Fighting Monkey, represents the societal challenges of communication, adaptability, the need for compromise, knowing when to yield and how to meet confrontation in a dance milieu. Using a martial arts approach to contemporary dance partnering, what they call the “Double Form”, Frucek and Kapetenea’s workshop environment is one without hesitation, where physical limits are pushed, and participants operate at a pace with which the mind struggles to keep up. Their class is driven by a speed and risk that creates an environment in which the impossible becomes possible. Bodies tap into an intrinsic primal knowledge where instinct and survival are at times the only tools in hand. Fears are conquered, inspiration is high and injuries are rare. These are extreme circumstances, and the results reflect just that.

photo by Orpheas Emirzas

Frucek and Kapetenea present new exercises each time they teach, drawing from what appears to be an infinite supply. The material is mined from the fighting arts, an investigation into how to advance on one’s partner while maintaining personal protection, using a mélange of power to escape, defend, and attack. In their latest workshop at Dans Centrum Jette (Brussels, BE), one person lies on the floor while their partner makes moves to step on their torso, limbs and head.  As the exercise develops, the student standing (the attacker) is encouraged to outwit his/her partner with quick footwork and ever-changing rhythms, while the defending partner blocks with arms and feet to stay protected. These circumstances challenge students to execute tasks with as much ease and efficient body mechanics as possible, making them better opponents and organically preventing their own injuries. Not all exercises are this subtle. During a 6-hour coaching project at ImPulsTanz Vienna International Dance Festival students were directed to walk through the space searching out new partners to leap onto at every turn, to take out at the knees, and even attack with two hands to the head, twisting until the partner descended to the floor helpless. This is a perfect example of how the body takes care of itself, rotating with the partner’s attack to remain intact, abiding by the partner’s will. Even so, one participant related a story where she did just this and her partner, whom she had taken down to the ground, bit her arm in reaction to an attack. Although biting is not a suitable tool to use, this result is proof that Fighting Monkey students are tapping into an unknown force, awakening a dormant primal spirit, and are thus transformed in the process.

photo by Lila Sotiriou

Utilizing the same elemental techniques from the warm-up exercises, Frucek and Kapetenea present fixed material (choreography) for the latter half of their classes. In contrast to the improvisation-based exercises, with partnerships changing minute to minute, students stay paired with the same dance partner, and a long-term relationship begins to take shape. As a result, greater challenges of communication within the movement sequence and the personalities of the couple rise up. Frucek illustrates how this mirrors reality and how one must adapt accordingly: waiting in line at the post office, appearing for an appointment at the commune, missing the metro, going to an audition, not getting the job, fighting with your spouse—circumstances one doesn’t get to choose. The dance duet Frucek and Kapetenea teach is based on a fighting vocabulary where the pair moves in hand-to-hand-like combat, aggressive advancing in space to drive the partner directionally, along with lifts, falls and rolls—at times using acrobatic elements like a flick-flack (back hand-spring). While Krucek and Kapetenea are not acrobatic coaches, they present the material, and students with no experience help one another and flick-flacks are flying.

Participants can expect to be challenged in mental and physical ways, for which one can never be prepared. While one half of the mind is busy executing the physical task, the other navigates the social circumstances of how to behave with a new partner every 2-5 minutes, or the same partner for hours at a time. The after effects of a workshop of this nature are even more fulfilling, forgiving, and resonant than what actually occurs in the time and space given. The echoing effect of the subject matter seems to trickle endlessly into the far reaches of one’s relationship with dance versus life, and questions the futility of separating the two.

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