Andrea Servera, 39, is a choreographer with a difference. While most from her fraternity aspire to create the perfect dance moves and put up grand productions complete with great sets, complex technological gear and fancy props, this Argentinean is more concerned that her work reflects local flavors and has an assertive social and political message. Her latest offering, 'La Sombra de un P'jaro en Vuelo', or 'The Shadow of the Flying Bird', does exactly that. With the aid of fine dance moves and moving documentary footage, she has shown how extensive globalization is rendering the rural and countryside landscapes economically and culturally inert. It is a trend that is on the rise across the globe. "The country farm has become like a place where nothing happens. Everything exciting related to the economy, the arts and culture is happening in metropolitan cities like Buenos Aires," states Servera.
'La Sombra de un P'jaro en Vuelo' is set in a country farm outside Buenos Aires, Argentina. The performance, a travelling show across Europe, premiered at Cardiff recently to a packed audience that was enthralled by the piece's simple and poetic yet strongly political critique of globalization. 'The Shadow of the Flying Bird' is an hour-long multimedia performance that has no narrative or dialogue. It threads sequences of dance movements that evoke the experience of traversing a country farm. The farm is depicted through a minimally designed documentary video projection. Karen Idelson, 29, who composed the video work for the performance says, "The most interesting aspect about working with Andrea is her emphasis on the 'local'. That is a way of understanding place and time, and one's position in it as an artist."
The creative process for composing 'La Sombra...' commenced with all the artists engaging with woman photographer Grete Stern's surrealistic photography. Stern had a background in the Bauhaus school and for Servera and her team her images exemplify how a place and its experience percolate one's dreams and the unconscious. "In this performance, the idea of the country farm, as a place where nothing happens, is in sharp conflict with the image of the countryside projected by governments, the mainstream media and advertisers - an idyllic landscape. In this measure the performance is fiercely political," adds Idelson, who teaches at the Department of Image and Sound Design, University of Buenos Aires.
For Servera, the performance is somewhat biographical, as she has spent a great deal of her childhood in the countryside, where her family is based. According to her, the aim was to "prevent the countryside and rural landscape from being romanticized, as it tends to be when projected in touristy terms".
Jennifer Ireland, 26, a painter from Dartington, found the piece "challenging and provocative". She says, "To create a whole choreography without any narrative, or without any music is very challenging. I was most excited by the relationship between the video that documented the countryside and the dancers who responded to that through their performance." This was one of the highlights of the show. All the dancers were moving in response to the images in the projected video and interacted with the images. For instance, one dancer performed a repetitive movement attempting to reach the top of a bottle whose image had been projected on the wall. On another instance, one performer rode a still bike, but the projection of a moving image in the background created a thrilling effect of movement, quite reminiscent of the novel tricks of early cinema.
In her creative process, Servera also does not value artistic technique as much as the individual character of the artists with whom she works. "I am a dancer and what has been very interesting for me to see is that even though all the dancers in this piece are performing similar movements, yet one can access their individual characters when one looks at them. This is very different from what we generally see because in conventional forms of dance the criteria for success is mastering a technique and one gets no sense of the person who is dancing," comments Becca Clarke, 31, an inspired viewer.
According to Servera, "This piece is reflective and contemplative. I believe that no performance deserves physical effort. There is no need to overtly demonstrate anything - whether it is a skill or a message."
Besides, this Buenos Aires-based artist has been collaborating with Crear Vale la Pena, a non-governmental organization that aims to develop art projects for social inclusion. Recently, she was working with women prison inmates, using dance and movement to enable them to articulate their experiences. This process also served as a mode of emotional release and fostered camaraderie among the inmates as well as with the prison staff.
Servera is originally trained in contemporary styles such as Hip-Hop and contra-improvisation. Her dance company has travelled and performed across the Americas and Europe. For her, dance is a medium of expression to comment on the human condition. "I work straight from where I am which is far away from the global north - the developed and economically advanced contexts of North America and Europe. As an Argentinean and a citizen of the global south I am interested in exploring creative possibilities that arise from and respond to the conditions of the third world." Her performances are usually small in scale and devoid of complex technological gear or fancy props. Her respect, faith and approach towards her experiences as a woman are the principal provocateurs for her art.
"It is not important for me to have a company or make big shows. What is important is working from your own cultural and political space. As an Argentinean, I feel nearer to Africa and India than to the US or Europe. When I perform in Europe or America, I find the infrastructure and discourses laden with excess and extravaganza. This is strange to me."
That's why Servera's works exemplify local issues and flavors depicted through a poetic vocabulary that transcends cultural, political and social differences.