by Craig Epplin
Photo by Gia Goodrich
Still Standing You, the dance piece by Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido, is by turns endearing, violent, silly, and solemn. It begins with Ampe lying on the floor, his legs straight up in the air, the soles of his shoes providing an awkward platform where Garrido sits and smiles. He greets the audience and talks amiably—talks about whatever, thanking everyone profusely and giving a lengthy, tongue-in-cheek introduction to his dance partner, who by now seems tired of holding Garrido up. The long soliloquy ends, and the dancers begin to engage one another. They grunt and snarl. They attack, retreat, and play dead. They gradually strip naked, deploying their clothes as weapons. They hurl shoes at each other. They snap their shirts like towels in a boys’ locker room. They spit. Sometimes they hug or pick lint off each others’ bodies. The show lasts around an hour.
The audience mostly laughs, for despite its violence, the scene we watch is often ridiculous. The dancers’ attacks on one another are interspersed with nipple twisting, penis twisting, beard twisting. They play constantly with each others’ and their own bodies, making noises like kids or dolphins. Minimal pop-culture references punctuate some of the most aggressive scenes, making them feel lighter than they would otherwise. It is only in the second half or final third of the performance that the audience grows mostly silent, as the two dancers explore more sedate, extended poses. Their bodies slowly meld into each other, the way a rider and a horse seem to become a centaur. In one pose, Garrido laid his torso over Ampe’s in such a way that I can’t quite describe, but that I remember as producing the effect of a many-legged mammal that walks haltingly across the stage. Their initial aggression toward one another has given way to the intensities of interpenetration.
Throughout, and perhaps naturally, I kept thinking about old cartoons, in particular the classic antagonists: Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry. All these pairs enact a mad, constant aggression against one another, an aggression that stops just short of causing death. Watching Ampe and Garrido pass seamlessly from afflicting pain on one another to grooming each other to holding one another up with their thighs, I understood something very simple about those TV shows: that Tom needed Jerry and vice versa. Their aggression was the essence of their relationship, but it had necessary, constitutive limits. Their interactions involved tolerating the other’s madness. I thought about this also in relation to the work’s title, Still Standing You. Various languages have words that connect the experience of standing, as in tolerating, to the act of carrying or holding: the verb to bear, for example, in English. Garrido is Portuguese, and one way to translate the work’s title into that language is via the verb suportar; tracing etymologies, to support is also to tolerate. The cartoonish aspect of Ampe and Garrido’s performance made this connection clear to me.
The great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein once wrote that the animated substitution of animals for humans in Disney cartoons responded to a desire for more fluid forms of social life. I think that something similar applies to this performance, which to my mind aims to represent the pleasures and potencies of ill-defined affects. The dancers’ dispositions move across registers of aggression, eroticism, and playfulness, and similar sorts of shape-shifting define all honest relationships. The specifics are obviously different (for most of us likely don’t throw shoes at one another), but the gray ambiguity between the dancers is the stuff of real friendship. The end of the performance, which comes gradually, through nods of acquiescence between Ampe and Garrido, thus seems less like a truce than the expression of a formless, enduring solidarity.
Craig Epplin is an assistant professor of Latin American literature at Portland State University and an editor at Rattapallax.