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Flash Review 1, 2-13: Escape from 9-11
Maguy Marin's Brave New World

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- AIDS had its Tony Kushner to write it a fantasia, and now 9-11 has its Maguy Marin to furnish a plan for action, an artist who both captures the actual calamity and lights the escape route. With her new "Points de Fuite" ( literally translated in English, "Points of Escape"), which premiered last night at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, Marin not only affirms the appropriateness of an artistic response to 9-11 and the aesthetic potential of such an expression, but its absolute necessity to finding points of escape from the despair, depression, rage and helplessness which continue to emanate from our literal, moral, and political ground zero in the wake of September 11.

But before I continue to gush, a caveat: Some of the French-speaking people who saw last night's 90-minute creation may beg to differ, particularly the 50 or so who walked out in the course of the show, beginning just 20 minutes into the performance. My companion, who unlike me understood all the French text, suggested it was this that might have provoked the, er, escapees, particularly when an orating dancer insisted that few people really think. Or, they may have considered overly-preachy the repeated statement that after 6000 years, there are no new words -- it's time for action. Likewise, the observation that each culture, each nation has its time may have seemed too simplistic, particularly when out of nowhere, Marin sent 11 clearly pedestrians of all ages and colors promenading across the stage until they stood in a line with the company dancers, eyeing the audience directly, openly, and significantly.

Me, while I appreciated their musical tones as they contributed to the soundscore -- I love the way this language sounds -- due to my lack of fluency, which may have been a boon in this case, the words did not get in the way of my view of Marin's atypically spare spectacle.

As with her previous "Waterzooi," seen in NYC at the Joyce in 1995, Marin here has her dancers playing musical instruments, but this time the scheme is more simple: toy pianos and horns have been replaced by simple guitars and two percussion instruments. The elaborate set of "Pour ainsi dire, " seen last Spring at the New Victory in NYC, has been replaced by a rock barely large enough to straddle, which one performer tries to do midway through, straining to see the horizon above and beyond -- the future? -- even as he tries to balance his feet below. (He is eventually let down easily by another dancer.) Instead of the white clown make up of "May B," Marin's take on Beckett also seen at the Joyce, the ten dancer-musician-actors appear in street clothes -- colorful, with blue and red and green jerseys, to be sure, but pedestrian nonetheless. In other words, the guitars may be electric, but what we have here is Maguy Marin unplugged.

A gifted story-teller, whatever the form, finds the best language to tell the story at hand, and is aware that circumstances may dictate not the most bombastic but the most simple one.* In "Points de Fuite," Marin employs simple patterns and phrases we've seen before, but ever-so-slightly tweaks them in such a way that they uniquely express this tale.

For example: After introducing themselves by entering one by one from stage left and pausing downstage center to look directly at the audience before arraying themselves stage right, and after some opening remarks by one, the dancers, save the one on guitar, suddenly start racing around the circumference of the massive stage, in one cluster. This we've seen before. But what's that? A woman grabs a man who seems to be slipping out of the huddle back into the group, an arm around his waist, without slowing her pace. Another woman, taking up the rear, looks nervously over her shoulder, without slowing, as if something or someone is gaining on them. One can't help but think immediately of the pictures -- or maybe you were there, and it's more than a picture -- ofthe crowds of normal, work-a-day people running north on 9-11 as the smoke gained on them over their shoulders. Then the corps rushes towards various points at the edges of the space, only to run into an invisible (to us) wall or other obstacle.

Then there's the ol' catch a leaping or falling dancer move. Only as designed and executed in "Points de Fuite," what gives the gesture specific poignancy are the moments preceding the catch -- as when one dancer anticipates that another, embroiled in a duet, is going to fall in a matter of seconds and races over to support him before he collapses, slowly, tenderly breaking the fall. And the ol' maneuver where one dancer stands on another who's lying down in what must be incredibly painful for the flat one -- only this time, the standing one, perched on the side of the butt and chest of the sideways reclining one, remains only long enough to get a better view of the action going on around her.

Of course, Marin also treats us to her signature moments of outright original physicality, as when about seven of the dancers one by one lay down flat downstage left, their heads to us, then propel themselves -- using who knows what bodily part as a pivot -- across the lip of the stage, domino-like, while still laying down and without (apparently) using their hands or feet. As they progress, their spines slowly curve and their necks arc, so that their faces, strained as if other-worldly forces were controlling their bodies, are revealed to us. An earlier, sort of sideways leap-frogging sequence -- again, where the only body part that could possibly be propelling them would be a particularly buoyant butt -- gives a similar impression.

Even the Significant Look -- when seen in a dance context, often enough to set my eyes signficantly rolling -- is played just right by these versatile performers. It is not so much over-alert as MINDFUL. Concerned. Engaged. In the final passage, a solitary woman -- my favorite, the (sorry, all names to follow, but I can't attach them to the specific performances!) one with short black hair, a grey sweater and a plaid skirt -- plucks the guitar in brief, jagged, slicing strains, while the rest of the group encloses in a smaller and smaller, protective circle. The music cuts, yes, but the musician is careful to look up after each strain to check the effect of the note on the dancers.

As I'm seemingly inundated with press releases in which the choreographer references 9-11, often describing his/her latest work as a direct dancerly response to the attacks, it's been a question in my mind: Is this appropriate? What is an honestly invested, unimpeachable expression of an artist's response to whatever is moving them, and what is thoughtless exploitation? A colleague here reports that a colleague of hers in NYC who happened to be on the Brooklyn Bridge when the towers fell shot the event, and sent her a copy of the video. My colleague, who has spent time in NYC, wanted to respond as an artist to these events -- most of all, to the sense of helplessness she felt watching the events unfold from across the Atlantic, thousands of miles away. Ultimately, while the video-tape did inspire the piece she created, she and her collaborator decided not to show the audience the actual tape -- just them waiting.

Receiving Maguy Marin's new "Points de fuite" -- and finding therein routes of possible escape aplenty from, at least, the sense of helplessness that was a major fall-out of 9-11, for Marin is issuing nothing less than a call to action -- it occurs to me that the appropriate answer to the question of appropriate 9-11 responses might be: Don't just think about what you need to say, but about what you have to tell us. This is probably a good place in my review to emphasize that Marin herself is not pitching this piece in the context of 9-11, even if a program note does report that work on this her latest creation started after September 11. But whatever she intended to say, it's clear that in this, in many ways her quietest piece (by which I mean that it is not sonically or theatrically loud), Maguy Marin and her expressive performers have much to tell us that, apres September 11, absolutely needs to be said.

One additional thought, if I may: With all respect to those closer to the scene, particularly the NYC artistic community, I think it helps that Marin's vantage point is, geographically anyway, removed. This allows her to see beyond the immediate events to what is universal, both in terms of nations and time. The good news is that this perspective should be available soon to US audiences; among the co-producers of "Points de Fuite," in addition to the Theatre de la Ville, Centre Choregraphique National de Rilleux-la-Pape, and Festival de Danse/Cannes, is the New England Foundation for the Arts, funded in large part by National Endowment for the Arts tax dollars. The way this works, as I understand it, is at some point NEFA circulates to U.S. presenters a list of its funded projects and productions which are available to tour the country. "Points de Fuite" also has touring support from the French government organization AFAA.

Here in Paris, Maguy Marin's "Points de Fuite" continues at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt through Sunday. The versatile performers of Compagnie Maguy Marin -- watch them dance!, hear them soulfully orate!, listen to them do their best Jeff Beck impressions! -- include, in alphabetical order, Ulises Alvarez, Preciosa Gil, Isaias Jauregui, Sylvie Pablot, Thierry Partaud, Livia Patrizi, Cathy Polo, Ennio Sammarco, Marcelo Sepulveda, and Brigitte Valverde. Alvarez and Polo assist Marin; Denis Mariotte composed the score, Chantal Cloupet designed the utilitarian costumes, Charles Peguy authored the apparently incendiary texts, Mariotte, Marin, and Francois Renard took care of the simple lighting, and Antoine Garry and Stephane Lorraine handled the sound.

* In her program notes for "Pour ainsi dire" which we published last Spring, Marin wrote: "Just as a sculptor seizes his material without necessarily having any particular project, one is guided by the material that presents itself as the initial element of the search for possibilities. It is when one begins to carve and chisel that one is confronted with different parameters: the quality of the material (hard, soft...), the need for diverse tools and possible methods (polish, groove), the efflorescence of hidden elements (knots, cracks, colors). Little by little, the form acquires meaning, indicating significance. It is a delicate work of listening, looking and awareness. One must be able to respond to what the material submits, in order to give it substance."

 

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