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Flash Review 2, 6-14: Dancers, Unchoreographed; Singers, Dancing
Coquempot AWOL at the Pompidou; Monnier on the Walls at the Pompidou; Montand Sings the Body Electric

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- So, I got to watch a rehearsal Wednesday at the Pompidou Centre! Nine dancers improvising, drawing from skills gleaned from working with, variously, Philippe Decouffle, Angelin Preljocaj, George Appaix, Blanca Li, Daniel Larrieu, Boris Charmatz, William Forsythe, and Rheda. The only problem was, the session wasn't advertised as a rehearsal, but as a finished work, a spectacle.And, it was billed as part of the Agora Festival, a series of music-dance-technology events running through Saturday and organized by the Pompidou and the related Ircam. Museums rarely host dance in the States, so I was really looking forward to the rare treat of seeing dance in such an arty setting. But what I saw, Mie Coquempot and PerMagnus Lindborg's "Extra-Quality #2," insulted the audience, insulted Music, and probably insulted Dance too.

Movement-wise, the 60-minute (!? Seemed much longer!) work starts promisingly enough, with the nine dancers collapsing from a circle into a pile, and then trying to twist their way out of it, staying balanced. It reminded me of the theater game Pretzel, where you have to untwist without anyone letting go of their partners' hands. Next the proceedings get rather stylistically spastic. A dancer gifted at achieving ballet's high leg lifts and poise dazzles with these. A man and a woman recite repetitively in French. But as the content continued to veer, I really got the feeling that the choreographer (Coquemot) had thrown her team into a studio, commanded,"Show me what you can do," and kinda left it there.

It's not uncommon for a choreographer to start the creative process by asking the dancers to improvise. But to earn the title, the choreographer then needs to apply discretion of eye and mind to what the dancers have come up with. That really didn't seem to have happened here. No editing, no selection, no arranging of the mix seems to have been made -- a void confirmed to me when out of nowhere a guy came out in a flared jump suit with a boom box that proceeded to play "You're the One that I Want" from "Grease."

Non sequiturs are not only fun, they're fine -- but in the hands of, say, Pina Bausch, who wrote the book on their employment, they usually come from a creative focal point. Bausch isn't just throwing in everything but the kitchen sink for the sake of panoply; she's operating from a recipe. Even chaos has to have a method if it's to make a case as art, and there was absolutely none applied here.

Music-wise, there seemed even less compositional skill applied. While Lindborg is credited as having composed the score, it was played not by professional musicians but by the dancers, after an interminable 20 minutes of audio silence in which a violin, keyboard, and trombone stood idling by tantalizing us. I don't think a chamber music ensemble would ever advertise a music concert featuring dance, and then proceed to execute the dance itself by having the musicians jump up and down. And yet this is what happened here, with dancers untrained in musical craft placed in charge of musical instruments. A violin is not just a noise-maker that can be played by anybody. Even if the tones being asked for are astringent, they MUST be played by musicians, or at least dancers professionally proficient in music-playing.

Even if I found the results, er, disappointing, it is still thrilling to see dance making such a strong presence in a museum, and with the Agora Festival, it's not restricted to the proscenium. Fragments of the nude body of French choreographic eminence Mathilde Monnier, as photographed by Isabelle Waternaux, decorate one whole wall of the basement level of the Pompidou. I don't know that these images are particularly dancey, but it's refreshing to see an older dancer captured sans attire. Even though we see Monnier's body mostly in parts, and not really including her head, somehow this experiment doesn't smack of objectification.

With posters for dance spectacles here more likely to feature posing than movement (that for the upcoming Montpellier Dance Festival is in fact a headless, footless, objectified female body, her pubic hair clearly in evidence), the danciest image to be seen around Paris these days is that of a very young Yves Montand, hovering a good six feet above a boardwalk on the Seine with arms and legs spread at right angles from the torso, the river, boats, a bridge and trees on the opposite bank in the background. The image jumps out from the poster for "Paris chante Montand," an exhibition at the Hotel de Ville which opened earlier this month. A note from Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe in the exhibition journal praises the late French idol as an exceptional singer, actor, humanist, seducer and music hall entertainer, and it is in this last facet that his ability to sing with his whole body comes across in the film and video clips offered at the exhibition. Montand, "Montand chante Paris" reminds us, was an examplar of that all-sport entertainer whose ability to express his joy with his body was one of the reasons he so moved us.

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