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The Kitchen

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Flash Review 1, 4-27: The Voyeur
Menage a Trois a la Maguy Marin

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

In the square where I lived in the 13th Arr. of Paris last fall, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the lives across the way, or at least what I could see of them. There was the single woman to the left and above whose veranda I knew by the clothes-drying racks, at a distance which made her but a silhouette whose face was left to my imagination; the young newlywed couple directly across the way; and what I grew to call the menage a trois across the way and one floor below. The single woman and I made direct contact one night, staring each other out in intrigued curiosity; it was intimately daring and safely anonymous at the same time. The couple across the way, well, as soon as he realized there was a man staying where they'd been used to seeing a woman, the shutters closed. But as for the trio -- a woman and two men -- I was invisible to them, they being as oblivious to me as performers can seem to be to their audience. She danced a lot; they entertained a lot; the bedroom seemed to be the province of one of the men, who I noticed stretchingly taking off his shirt one night; she seemed to retire in the living room; and I'm not sure where the other man slept, altho it may have been in the bedroom of the first. She seemed the maven of the living room, often lounging on the sofa; the first up in the morning, opening the window and leaning over the planter box on the veranda. And, dancing. I missed them when, suddenly, all three disappeared for a week, the static slightly opened window being the sign that they had not returned. Then, towards my last week in Paris, she returned, but seemingly alone. It was a strange way to observe a daily life of three people, because I could only guess at what they said, and I only saw what went on near the windows, although they generously never fully drew the scarlet curtain.

Seeing Maguy Marin's "Pour ainsi dire" at the New Victory last night, which work also focuses on a menage a trois of one woman and two men, and whose planter boxes at the downstage indicate the vantage point is also the front rooms of a living space, is like having the action of my three friends physically extenuated, plus bugged for sound. Except that even that sound is only a hint, really, of the text going on between these roommates; the mystery of their lives is, if anything, deepened by the non-sequitors, the sudden epigrams: a woman, Laura Frigato, announces she is more interested in finding herself than God; later, frantically rummaging through her purse, she amends that at the moment she is not trying to find God, but her keys. Still later, she climbs aboard Alessandro Sabatini's shoulders and looks over the fence delineated by a flat upstage, and starts gushing in Italian; Sabatini translates to Laurent Frick that she is saying she can see Italy from her perch; then that she has spotted her mother, her father, many cousins, and finally, a parcel. That parcel, after the three plop down to open it, turns out to contain a tambourine and a toy trumpet -- shades of Marin's earlier "Waterzooi," in which the dancers organize an entire toy instrument orchestra -- and, voila!, a long tube of spaghetti and a bottle of pale grappa at whose discovery they exclaim in delight ("Ah! Grappa!"), and which each of the three joyously swig. You can almost taste it with them. It's an impromptu indoor picnic and concert!

The goodie box is just one of the many boxes and doors which act as portals on Marin's stage, of various shapes and various materials (my favorite: a curtain of golden hippie beads like the one that guarded our San Francisco bathroom growing up) intimating that this intimate mis-en-scene has a larger context: I counted at least three idiosyncratically-shaped doors at one point, plus a couple of hand-sized paintings, one of which is meticulously scrubbed and scrubbed by Frick, as if he is seeking a detail he knows is there; and a larger canvas of a wharf, perhaps on the Seine but more resembling a Cherbourg, in the wideness of its bay; boxes even punctuate the drama as picture frames, illuminated by bulbs arrayed around the frame, containing the faces of all three, in turn commented upon by another.

Like my anonymous neighbor, the woman seems to do a lot of the cleaning up and physical and verbal gesticulating. There are lots of keystone cops chase sequences. Many exhausted pile-ups, ending in one that, in its utter convicted joy, can only be described as an orgastic (orgiastic?) ah! (At least, that's what I was moved to write down at the time.) There is a poignant and powerful kiss at one passage, Frigato planting it longly on Sabatini, but it comes as he is sputteringly asking for some sort of favor, so the sense is as much that she is trying to shut him up as stir him up; when she leaves, Sabatini starts in on Frick, who quickly exits through the rear of the cabinet. A repeated pensive moment I loved has each of the three reading his/her own book, whispering the words aloud; rubbing elbows as they read, they are together but alone (alone but together?).

I can't presume to apprehend any Marin piece after one viewing. (For her own view, see her Flash Preview of yesterday.) All I can do is try to give a general sense, first, of the overall spirit, which here is one of children playing. Second, based on my viewings of Marin's earlier "Waterzooi," "May B," and "Ram Dam," I can suggest that the step Marin has taken with "Pour ainsi dire" is an unusually brave one. It's not that Marin has chosen to take on much more than before, but the opposite. Where "Waterzooi" and "May B" were indeed rich, dense stews, this work is a salad -- pungently spiced, to be sure, but sparingly. In Philippe Decouffle, seen Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, we have a choreographer so in love with his ability to entertain with special effects that the dance seems like a poorly cultivated after-thought. And we have a work that is obviously, cloyingly attempting to appeal to us as awkwardly cute. In Marin, we have a work that is oh-so-naturally endearing in the crazy, madcap tussling about of its naturally engaging and sympathetic performers (given good juice by Denis Mariotte's keystone-ey score, and winningly set-off by Christian Toullec's bright pastel sets and simple lighting scheme, and the simple civilian elegance of Candice Zastera's costumes); and an artist who can sensationally entertain and blow you away with her tools, easily adding theatricality and oomph to her work, but who chooses this time to throw it all out and start all over again with three performers and an idea.

While Decouffle may be ambitious, it's Marin who is courageous.

Compagnie Maguy Marin continues at the New Victory through Sunday. For showtimes and ticket info, please visit the New Victory web site.

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