Experimental ballet. No Tomorrow

4 Dec 2021—13 Mar 2022
Season: Santa Barbara

An experimental ballet for six dancers with guitars — an homage to the painter Antoine Watteau and an invitation to deep meditation.

No Tomorrow is a ballet by Ragnar Kjartansson and Margret Bjarnadottir. For half an hour, six dancers in identical pairs of jeans and white T-shirts perform a choreographic composition. They accompany themselves on guitars and  sing one phrase over and over again: “I considered myself the most beloved of all lovers and, therefore, the happiest of people.”

Ragnar Kjartansson, known for his interest in cliches and endless repetition, borrowed a quote from the story of Dominique Vivant-Denon, a writer and the first director of the Louvre Museum. Written in the second half of the 18th century and typical of secular literature of that era, the book is about a short love affair and was originally called Point de Lendemain — or “No Tomorrow” in English. Its Russian translation was published under the title Neither Tomorrow, nor Later. With the precision of a draughtsman, Denon describes castle interiors and the beauty of park pavilions where the action takes place. His verbal landscapes resemble the canvases of that master of "gallant scenes", Antoine Watteau. Frozen in elegant poses, often in dance, Watteau's characters appear more often than not sad, devoid of individual features and ephemeral. The tales his paintings tell have no plot development. The authors call the ballet No Tomorrow, an homage to Antoine Watteau.

Image by Jónatan Grétarsson

No Tomorrow is an opus to abstract beauty and unnamed emotions, transparent and resonant minimalism, a ghost ballet. Dressed in casual clothes, the dancers move so gracefully that the endless repetitions of steps and the weaving of choreographic drawings become an unobtrusive mantra, an invitation to deep meditation. The singing of the dancers has a mesmerizing effect, like voices of sirens, imperceptibly transporting the entire audience to an island of peace and ghostly romanticism. No Tomorrow is a manifesto of rhythm, movement and chords, vaguely remembered emotions. A reflection on the beauty and elegance, inner strength and art of a dancer.

– Olga Tsvetkova, project curator

The production with no scenery and with exaggeratedly simple costumes actually turns out to be a tribute to Kjartansson's favorite style rococo. In casual clothes and with their hair down, ballerinas dance slowly and smoothly, as though they were wearing enormous skirts and heavy wigs. They sing the same refrain in a detached and sad way, which, like the endless repetitions of footsteps, turns No Tomorrow into a meditative spectacle. The music for the ballet was written by Bryce Dessner, composer and guitarist of the rock band The National, with whom Kjartansson presented his six-hour performance A Lot of Sadness. His video documentation was part of the exhibition To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!.

Many performers of No Tomorrow didn't know how to play the guitar. They learned how to play the chords together with the choreography. The ballet’s music accompanies the movements. It is fragile, exposed and becomes barely audible when the dancers move far back on the stage or turn their backs to the audience. Throughout the performance they hold on to  the bulky instruments, which at times begin to resemble bodies. The ballet, like Denon's tale, has no moral, just as Kjartansson's performances do not aim to tell a story. Endless repetition turns into a manifesto of rhythm, movement and live sound. The premiere of the ballet took place in 2017 in Reykjavik, at the Sacrifice Festival.

Ragnar Kjartansson is an artist and musician. Born in 1976 in Reykjavik, he studied at the Icelandic Academy of Arts and the Royal Academy in Stockholm. Kjartansson's solo exhibitions and performances have been held in many leading museums around the world. In 2009, Kjartansson represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale, and in 2013 his works were shown at the main exhibition of the Biennale, Encyclopedic Palace. He uses various artistic techniques and mediums. Kjartansson's works are associated with emotionality and humor, each of them influenced by the comedies and tragedies of classical theatre.

Margret Bjarnadottir is an Icelandic artist and choreographer who works at the intersection of dance, performance, visual arts and literature. Her diverse practice includes choreography, photography and video, texts, playing drum kits and creating glass objects. Margret was the choreographer of Bjork's concert tour Utopia (2017) and her Cornucopia show in 2019.

Bryce Dessner is the composer and guitarist of the band The National, and is also actively engaged in curatorial activities. He has composed orchestral, chamber and vocal compositions for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kronos Quartet, the Barbican Art Centre, and the New York City Ballet Company. His works have been performed at the most celebrated music festivals.