Provocative Art Does a Double Take

Published the week of Sept. 14, 2007 in 24/Seven.
By Annamarya Scaccia

Emerging in black suits from an enormous canvas of wet clay onto a platform made of the same substance, internationally celebrated Catalan artist Miquel Barceló and French choreographer/dancer Josef Nadj sling and sculpt the malleable material while dancing, often submerging themselves into the body of their progressing work.

Within this ever-changing sculpture, they explore the fixations, anxieties and escapades of an unconventional artistic creation, presenting the uniquely enthralling performance arts piece known as “Paso Doble.”

Described as “fascinating” by the French daily newspaper Le Figaro, “Paso Doble” is a pioneering collaboration between Barceló and Nadj, favored by critics and welcomed by a sold-out audience at the 2006 60th Anniversary Festival d’Avignon, an annual performing arts event held in Avignon, France.

In commemoration of its extraordinary reception at the festival, “Paso Doble” will be making its way state-side, inaugurating the fall season at famed Brooklyn venue, St. Ann’s Warehouse, located at 38 Water Street in DUMBO.

Running from September 14 through September 16, the United States premiere of “Paso Doble” will be presented by Barcelona-based organization Institut Ramon Llull, in collaboration with St. Ann’s and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. The critically acclaimed piece will be one of the five performances to grace the stage this fall at St. Ann’s Warehouse, including “The Tiger Lilies,” and TR Warszawa’s “Macbeth,” an occasion that Borja Sitjà, head of Institut Ramon Llull’s Creative Arts Department, believes is ideal.

“There was never a doubt from our part that St Ann’s Warehouse was the perfect place in New York City to present this performance,” says Sitjà. “Its fearless programming, the openness of its artistic performances, and the aim that this place always had to discover to the broad public the newest forms of expression, as well as the very specific audience that has kept loyal to its programming, made St Anne’s Warehouse the place to present ‘Paso Doble.’”

Dedicated to promoting Catalan culture throughout the world, the Institut Ramon Llull, a public entity formed by the Government of Catalonia and the Institute of Catalan Studies, has been involved with “Paso Doble” from the start, says Sitjà, financing the DVD production of the piece’s original performance.

The institute, Sitjà explains, wanted to bring “Paso Doble” to New York as part of its “Made in CataluNYia” event, which took place from March 7 to June 3 of this year. The program featured, among others, Catalonian theater, dance, and musical performances, as well as the “Barcelona and Modernity” exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and poetry readings at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Midtown Manhattan by Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Patti Smith.

“It is very important for the career of any artist to succeed in New York City, more so than any where else in the United States of America,” says Sitjà. “Moreover, we believe that the audience of New York City will understand perfectly the performance [of “Paso Doble”] and will become very interested to know more about both artists’ work.”

The idea for “Paso Doble” seemed to have sprung to life after Nadj, who completed a lengthy residency in Barceló’s studio, decided he wanted to “enter” a painting, a concept which appealed to Barceló as well. The two imagined a wall made out of red clay, which, during the performance, they would manipulate and make “live sculptures” from, working their bodies in and out of it, so, as it has been described, they are not only the sculptors, but the “art on view.”

This feat, underscored with a live soundscape by Alian Mahè, has the two ultimately vanishing into the clay, leaving behind a different work of art for every night the piece is performed.

“Barceló is one of our most important and international visual artists. The performance that Nadj and [Barceló] put together is intensely Mediterranean and representative of Catalan Arts,” Sitjà says.

It seems, however, there is something much more significant and impressive about “Paso Doble” other than its celebration of Catalonian culture and possible impact on New York City residents.

According to Sitjà, the multi-talented Barceló, whose artwork has been shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris, has never graced a stage before “Paso Doble,” yet he performs as “the creator of a show” next to Nadj, whose existence is the stage.

Despite this, they create together “a kind of magic” that, coming from an artist unfamiliar with the theater setting, “invades” the territory which Nadj is native to. This, Sitjà believes, produces a work of art that is “unique and exceptional,” common to and shared by both artists.

But, while “Paso Doble” is by no doubt considered ground breaking and compelling, how would, or ultimately should, the state-side audience feel about the piece?

Says Sitjà: “[They] should leave the show feeling that two artists coming from two different cultural traditions and backgrounds but with a similar creative universe are able to create a common world and a new artistic space that, without belonging to either of them, emanates from their inner universe and becomes a very unique work of art.”

“Paso Doble” opens at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn, 11201 on Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. and runs to Sept. 16. Tickets are $35. For more information, visit or call 718.254.8779.


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