La Ribot enters the room with a great shock of bright blue hair, red and green polka dot leggings, her Swiss husband and her two-year-old son. She is tall and bony with an Egon Schiele face and she is in London to perform a choreographed striptease and two sets of short movement pieces as part of the London International Mime Festival.
Born in Madrid 35 years ago, she trained as a classical ballerina but soon realised that what she really wanted was to work on her own, experimenting with form and medium. Aged 22, she set up a dance group called Bocanada which won numerous prizes in Spain, but by 1990 she had branched out and become simply La Ribot.
"My education and background are completely unimportant," she says, refusing to elaborate on either these or her real name. La Ribot is her public identity and, though she remains good-humoured, she is quite insistent on this point. La Ribot conveys a multiplicity of nuances, she says in heavily accented English with the earnest intensity of someone who doesn't like to describe herself as "avant-garde" but rather "expanding into new forms of expression".
"Socorro! Gloria!" (1991), her extended striptease, has now become her signature piece. During its seven minutes, she carefully peels off layer upon layer of Oxfam-style underwear until she's down to her last six pairs of long johns - and then she carries on going. "The naked body," she says, "is central to my performance. It's the canvas on which I create my most important work because it's the cleanest base from which to build. It comes without pre-determined meanings. It's neutral." This blank sheet means that she has to be very precise in her movements with no leeway for error or improvisation, "and then, using the fewest possible elements, I can say what I want to say by adding movement, costume or sound". She always begins the evening with the striptease since, once she and the audience have stripped through the layers of artifice together, then they can really begin to get somewhere.
Hence the blue hair. It emphasises the idea of "the artificial" in the show. La Ribot laughs again and refers enigmatically to the "liars of lice" which permeate her performance and which are the essence of her art. After some heated discussion, these turn out to be "layers of lies". La Ribot hasn't much time for mistranslation. She laughs a lot but she really wants to be understood. She dismisses the notion that taking off all her clothes in public is embarrassing. "I am not using the naked body as a sexual thing," she says, "I am merely putting my artistic ideas into one woman's nude form." She is certainly not aware of men in the audience experiencing the piece differently to women and her only real problem with the striptease is that a lot of theatres are poorly heated and she gets cold.
In 1993 she started work on "l3 Piezas Distinguidas" - the first in a series of pieces from 30 seconds to seven minutes long which investigate dance and movement and the body. They have titles like "Swedish Cow" (a homage to a dead friend), and "What we could see if we could only see" (a piece about the suffering of war). She says that she wants to communicate even with the titles. "For me, the idea is to make public sense of the intimate since my private inspirations are unimportant. The important thing is to make something of them." What she wants is to make "mobile poems" during which she uses her body to cut through the unnecessary exterior to "the precious diamond inside". In "Eufemia", for example, she stands on an empty stage, wearing a white shift dress, and then begins to smear her chest violently with a huge splattering of bright, scarlet blood. At the end of the piece she lifts up the bag from which she has been squeezing the artificial blood and shows it to the audience - more "liars of lice".
Although she's wildly popular in Spain and constantly sells out, she moved to England in June 1997 and she's enjoying it here. She likes the English bars, the carpet in her bathroom and the British daily timetable - "in Spain everything closes down for three hours at lunch time and I can't stand it". She has used her time here to complete work on 13 "More Distinguished Pieces" with her ultimate aim being to create 100 - all of which are for sale, since one of the most unusual aspects of these pieces is that if you like one, you can go up to La Ribot after the show and buy it. For a price, you can become the "distinguished proprietor" of the piece and have your name printed on the programme and a free ticket to see your distinguished property wherever it appears in the world. La Ribot, however, does not want to reveal the exact price since "it's not very good to speak about money. Better to speak about the idea of purchase than the exact amount, don't you think?"
She likes English audiences since they are "intelligent and see straight to the heart of what I'm trying to do. I don't feel they are outside me like some audiences. I don't get lonely on stage because I don't feel alone. English people are not cold. From the first moment they are with me absolutely, English people are playing with me and this is very good. At the end, performance is about playing with people not playing alone."
La Ribot at the London International Mime Festival, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London SW1. Tue l3-Wed l4 Jan, 7pm and 8.45pm. Sun 18 Jan, 6pm and 8pm. Box Office: 0171 930 3647.Reuse content