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Who counts as human? And whose lives count as lives? These questions drive Argentine American choreographer Silvana Cardell’s latest work, Disposable Bodies, at the Wilma Theater this October 6-8, 2023, in a co-production with Bryn Mawr College. Recipient of a 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship, Cardell has long explored critical social issues through movement, including in her phenomenal Supper! People on the Move (2015), a wrenching meditation on immigration. In a career spanning decades and continents, Cardell has built a reputation for visceral, cinematic work that tackles weighty topics and transforms dancers and audiences alike.
The stories our bodies hold
The germ of Bodies arose while Cardell was preparing Supper! when she interviewed refugees who recounted the often dire conditions that compelled them to leave home and the harrowing journeys they endured, only to find themselves pariahs in the US. Many landed at the factory farms known to exploit the labor of undocumented people, where they suffered deplorable living and working conditions. The trauma enacted upon those fueling the industry and reproduced without end staggered Cardell. She found parallels in the dehumanization of poor bodies in Buenos Aires, where young children in need of food or money perform circus acts at stoplights, peddle socks at restaurant patios, and scour the sidewalks for recyclables. In Bodies, the dancers skulk on all fours, limbs intertwined, heads tucked inside shirts, “animalized” like the port city’s impoverished kids who disappear their faces under clothing when they are arrested for merely trying to survive. In this uncanny image, recognition can unhinge, as Cardell attests: “When these children approach you, you realize they are babies, and you think of your own.”
Bodies opens with an enormous inflatable pig dominating the stage. Pulsing with air in the manner of life, the porcine sculpture’s curves and folds become a canvas upon which filmed projections of its real-life inspiration stare back. The closeup moving image of a pig’s eye, magnified and accompanied by its grunting breath and piercing squeals, pens us in our witnessing. Surveillance-style cameras capture the dancers in acts of violence and duplicate these upon the walls alongside footage of carcasses hanging in meat lockers. Into this atmosphere of unease, Cardell adds tranquil scenes of languid movement, projections of cloud-puffed skies and quotations, suggesting an Edenic end to the Anthropocene.
In blurring the boundary between human and non-human animals, Cardell interrogates speciesism while exposing how violence against animals mirrors the grievous oppressions of human society. Where such ideas might lie fallow on the page, Bodies carries Cardell’s signature urgency, propelled by the dancers’ chops and enhanced with props and technology, including Maria Chavez’s alternately ominous and soothing soundscape. From this charged material, Bodies unearths a vision of another way that asks to ripple out.
Know-before-you-go: This show is recommended for mature audiences due to nudity and sensitive content.
What, When, Where
Disposable Bodies. Choreography by Silvana Cardell. Cardell Dance Theater. October 6-8, 2023, at the Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 546-7824 or wilmatheater.org.
A Q&A with the performers and director will be held after the 7pm performance on Saturday, October 7.
The Wilma offers a variety of accessibility accommodations to better serve audiences. Contact the box office at least 24 hours in advance of the performance with any questions.
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