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Flash Review, 4-26: When You Comin' Back, Billy Batson?
Superduped by "Shazam!" at BAM

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

We make love through technology, courting each other on e-mail. We break up through technology, arguing through e-mail. We are fast losing the ability to communicate with any sort of dexterity or rapport or skill or facility with our bodies. So when I see a work like Philippe Decoufle's "Shazam," in which performers canonically insist that they prefer to communicate with their bodies even while their bodies are overwhelmed by distanced, filmed bodies and lights and technology and cartoons, I have to state, categorically, notwithstanding the Brooklyn Academy of Music audience's hurrahs and the thumbs up from audient Moses Pendleton at last night's opening, that this is an Emperor with lots of clothes but very little body, if body is a synonym for dance.

I cried, in fact, when I realized that Decoufle has been seduced by, and apparently has succeeded in seducing much of the public with (if one is to believe France Moves director Yorgos Loukos's claim that Decouffle is "by far the most important artist in France, the U.S., Brazil...'") glam. Glam film. Glam lighting. Glam mirrors. Glam animation. Yes, Dance Insiders, this was one of those dances where I had to ask myself, "How would this look stripped down, sans glorious rocking music (and it did rock), and sexy films of dancers (and the films were riveting) and pared to just the dance, and the dancers. The answer -- and thanks to my colleague Diane Vivona for educating me to this Arlene Croce term -- is that I am left with few after-images of the DANCE.

Exceptions: Christophe Salengro and Alexandra Naudet. After Salengro becomes blue-jacketed, naked below the waist man number umpteen to insist that he's embarrassed to talk and would rather express himself with his body, he talks LIGHT (previous speakers have talked music and body), as danced by Naudet in a crystalline white hoop skirt, given original, exact musicalization by the group La Trabant, with lead composer Sebastien Libolt. In the dryest French manner, he sings the praise of blue light, and red light illumines Naudet and the stage; white light, and red light suffuses all; dimmers, as he tweaks her breasts -- again, to a romp of a breast/dimmer tweaking sound effect by La Trabant -- and she his groin. There's even a blackout, from which he emerges with a flashlight.

Also charming, I have to admit, is the film which concludes the evening. We get the whole cast, done up, as is the film imagined, in a Rene Clair/Fernand Leger manner, i.e. "Entre Chat"/"Ballet Mecanique," right down to the white face make-up, winks, and capped one-piece bathing suits. (And indeed, these two films are evoked earlier in the evening, quite successfully, in frames within frames, boxes within boxes: the proscenium, a screen, a frame in the movie on the screen, and a frame within that, encasing a large eye.) Lots of pyramids here and gravity defining and surmounting acts, achieved, a Momix veteran with an eye for such things informed me later, by filming the dancers from above when they're actually on the ground, with a black background. That it's a trick doesn't really take away from the achievement, which is as much in the wry delivery as in the illusion of feets a-feat.

So: An interesting film, suitable for the BAM cinematheque -- absolutely. Riveting film? Okay, sure. But, stripped of all effects, original dance? Hardly. The most popular in France? Don't believe the hype, mon amis. Bring on Mlle Marin and M. Preljocaj!

P.S. After-thought one: In her review of fellow France Moves attraction Boris Charmatz yesterday, my colleague Sandra Aberkalns wrote, "the contact work between the dancers was what was in vogue here in the U.S. 20 to 30 years ago (i.e. been there, done that)." In a program statement, Decoufle talks about coming to the U.S. years ago and studying with Alwin Nikolais and Merce Cunningham. Huh. Well, regarding any Cunningham pretensions -- er, well, that's just what they are, nothing more. Regarding Nikolais -- see Sandra's comment! Nikolais was doing some of the imagistic/illusionary things Decoufle does much more than thirty years ago. This is what we worse fear when we go to see a European post-modern dance company, that they will be presenting as novel things that were new to New York thirty years ago.

P.P.S. After-thought two: During the concert, one of the reasons I cried is I thought of what might have been. Why couldn't Mr. Loukos have brought Lynda Gaudreau, whose concert seen by moi in Paris last fall more than echoed post-modern roots? Gaudreau's very purity was a tonic I yearned for last night. Films were utilized there too, but to a more dancey end: A Jonathan Burrows short that centers on the knitting movement of hands; another that focuses on the more-than-pedestrian human kinetics in a girl dribbling a basketball, and two men trying to take it away from her; a run across a field in which two younger men outdistance a much older man; a row of four dancers chain-reacting cleanly to each other; Benoit Lachambre taking locomotion to the hyper-max. True, Gaudreau is from Montreal, so the France Moves umbrella would have to extend to all things Francophone. But if she's good enough for the major Paris theater des Abbesses, she should be good enough for the increasingly glammy BAM.

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