Looking back in empathy

Lina Lapelyte opens up the Lithuanian Story festival with ‘Candy Shop and Other Dances’

LINA LAPELYTE performs ‘Candy Shop.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
LINA LAPELYTE performs ‘Candy Shop.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lina Lapelyte wants to stop us in our tracks. That much and more will come across clearly in her forthcoming slot at the Tel Aviv Museum, when she oversees “Candy Shop and Other Dances.”
The free April 16 (7 p.m.) show is part of the inaugural Lithuanian Story festival, which features a diversified string of events and shows taking place around Tel Aviv. The program kicked off on March 7 and will run through to June 1.
Candy Shop incorporates three works – “Ladies”, “Pirouette” and “Candy Shop – The Song” – each of which is patently designed to get us to recalibrate our conscious understanding of the everyday world about us.
Journalists and, let’s face it, most culture consumers are prone to pigeonholing. We generally like our artistic offerings textually delineated in user-friendly terms. But Lapelyte’s oeuvre defies all attempts, however professional or general, to convey their form or spirit in proverbial words of one syllable.
“I am trying to escape the easy descriptions,” notes the 34-year-old Lithuanian artist, somewhat superfluously.
Lapelyte’s show addresses a wide range of issues, including aging, gender and socioeconomic status, all of which are, inter alia, designed to get us to do something of a double take, and reexamine our view of the said realm of life and to look beyond the tag, the façade, and the quotidian take on the subject in question.
Lapelyte is a strong believer in the communal, all-embracing approach. The themes she feeds off tend to aim to bring the margins of society back into public limelight.
“It is not that I am focusing on that, but I am quite interested in this. It’s not on aging itself. It’s more on the exclusion of certain ages from society.”
Part of that, she believes, is the result of aggressive marketing-driven brainwashing. “Especially in art, you see all these young bright people, you know, my generation. I am interested in the wider group of people. So my interest in aging is related to my interest in inclusion.”
That is part of the reasoning behind the “Pirouette” part of the three works that make up “Candy Shop and Other Dances.” The said ubiquitous pointed-toe ballet whirl is normally presented as a rapid flowing movement, accompanied by a suitably lyrical sonic backdrop. Nothing could be further from Lapelyte’s rendition.
“I was interested in working with a retired ballerina. They get retired at such an early age,” she explains. “I was fascinated by the fact that these are really beautiful women who are not needed any more as dancers in the opera house, where they used to dance.”
Lapelyte has a salient point. It’s not just artists who find themselves consigned to the social scrap heap. An octogenarian woman I met the other day bemoaned her sense of becoming invisible to the populous at large, once her working days were over. “It’s as if I don’t exist, because I am not seen as contributing,” she noted. The Lithuanian gets that, and would like to get the gist of that sorry sentiment, too.
She was also looking to challenge her “pensionable-aged” dancer, and thus to convey the real life corporeal facet involved in producing elegant ballet shapes. “I had this idea that someone would continue to make pirouettes for an extended period of time, but I realized that it is kind of impossible, because a classical ballet dancer can do a certain amount of pirouettes and that’s it.”
PIROUETTE (courtesy)
Lapelyte purposely went over the top, to make a point. “I really wanted this continuous movement, where she spins in some way, spinning on her tiptoes for 10 minutes.” The sustained effort eventually takes its toll, even on a seasoned professional. “Then what you see is the fragility of the body. The audience gets a really close view of the piece. It is a kind of very intimate performance. We are so used to seeing ballerinas in their best shape, in superior positions. Here we have a ballerina who starts sweating, and her body starts to shake. The image of the ballerina becomes something else. She is a human being.”
The oxymoronic effect is heightened by the fact that the toiling dancer is accompanied by Lithuanian jazz reedman Liudas Mockunas, on saxophone or bass clarinet. The sounds he makes complement the increasing lumbering factor in the performance, extending the contradictory vibe even further.
“Liudas is a famous jazz musician in Lithuania, but he is limited to one note,” says Lapelyte. The work ups the wake-up call ante a mite further. “He also uses the circular breathing technique. When I hear that, it makes me feel a bit suffocated, because it feels like he never breathes,” she laughs. “It’s a really physical performance for both of them, but at the same time it has all these layers, visually and in the sound. The one note has so many layers.”
“Ladies” is another creation that brings the back-rowers front and center. The work features four female instrumentalists, who all play a Lithuanian harp, called a kankles, which is played from the lap.
Once again, Lapelyte is keen to shine a complimentary light on society’s also-rans.
“I was looking for some singers in this ensemble in Lithuania, and I came to this orchestra and I saw these beautiful women at the back of the orchestra playing this instrument,” she recalls. The image she caught was a definitively uncreative one. “If I hadn’t seen the instruments, I would have thought they worked in an office, or something like that. The harp they played looked almost like a desk. I suddenly got this visual image they create by playing the instrument, and I was interested in their hand action.”
It was the latter that really sparked concept of “Ladies.” “Sometimes I call this piece choreography for hands,” she laughs. “They do this continuous hand movement. It’s kind of hypnotizing, and at the same time they played this very monotonous piece of music, which is also quite labor-intensive. For them it’s quite physically hard.”
The visual aspect was as important as the aural effect. “Because they played in this ensemble for the last 30 years, they have these very particular stage manners, and even though they are extremely tired by playing ‘Ladies,’ they still keep this bright and very uplifted manners. There are some paradoxes in the piece, and it’s kind of musical; and, for me, at the same time it is very visual. It sort of represents female labor.”
Lapelyte knows a thing or two about social alienation, or labeling, herself. “I became a mother when I was 25, so I was known as a young mother,” she says. “That can be seen as negative.”
Basically, the Lithuanian artist just wants us to be who we are, and take others at face value. That, she believes, involves taking a step back and shaking off some of our preconceptions about the people around us, and how we neatly stash them away in some category or other, and then just get on with our business.
“We should try to take a different angle on things. I go to different places, and I have some idea of what audiences may be like in some country, and then I get a completely opposite result by showing one or another work. It also keeps me fresh.”
Entry to the show is free. Places must be reserved in advance by calling (03) 607-7070 or (03) 607-7000, or going to the Tel Aviv Museum website, http://www.tamuseum.org.il
For more information about the festival: https://www.facebook.com/LithuanianCultureinIsrael