Only a body

Luis Garay brings his solo dance piece, “Manieres,” to the Walker this weekend.

Danylo Loutchko

The performance starts in pitch darkness. The only sensory information is an electronic soundscape. 
Slowly, the lights come up to reveal a dancer, who for the next hour explores the physical and expressive abilities of the human body. 
“Manieres,” a solo movement performance piece created and directed by Argentina-based artist Luis Garay and performed by dancer Florencia Vecino, shows at the Walker Art Center this weekend.
“I would say [it’s] dance, but in many ways it feels like it’s more extreme,” said Philip Bither, senior curator for performing arts at the Walker. “It’s an investigation of what the body can do. And at the same time, [Garay] creates a theatrical experience where you feel like there’s a whole journey, a kind of arc to the piece.”
The piece is about the performer’s body movement as form of language and communication. 
“In ‘Manieres,’ we use the body as a writing machine,” Garay said. “[Vecino] is doing a writing. What I like to think is that we are writing on your eyes, your mirror cells which perceive light and movement and transmit it to your brain. We’re writing in there. … I was very obsessed with the body as linguistic material.”
“Manieres” has been touring for about five years now to various festivals around the world. Its U.S. tour hit two other cities:  Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia. 
“[‘Manieres’] keeps getting picked up because it’s such a strong piece. … It’s become an international festival blockbuster,” Bither said. 
Garay’s background is in dance, but he realized he didn’t want to be a professional dancer shortly after finishing dance school. 
Instead, he wanted to make his own work and create collaboratively, working off stage and taking on a more directorial and choreographic role. 
After leaving dance school, the shift from performer to creator was natural and immediate, he said.
“The first piece I did was because a group of performers called me to work with them,” Garay said. “It was a very collaborative process, everyone was our director — there was no one director. And after that experience I realized that I wanted to direct.” 
A new piece came about while Garay was planning to work on a group piece. After seven months, he decided that he and longtime friend and collaborator Vecino should just make a solo piece together. From that, “Manieres” was born. 
“It was a very unconscious process,” Garay said. “It was not easy, but it was very organic. It wasn’t forced. … And then we premiered it as a work-in-progress in 
Switzerland, and that’s exactly the form that the piece has now. I didn’t change it because it just worked.”
“Manieres” also explores how ideas and movements are transmitted from performer to audience. 
“We have a writing machine on stage, so you become like a reading machine,” Garay said. “It’s about ocularity and what’s happening in your eye. And the fact that you spend one hour and fifteen minutes not moving in the chair. I think the piece speaks also about that — that moment of watching. [The performance] is an experience where
you sit in a dark place and you watch.”