New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews
Review, 3-27: Dance in the Age of Cholera
Larbi on War & Other Follies
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2003 Rosa Mei
GENT, Belgium -- The
locals in Belgium refer to him as "Larbi," just Larbi. It's an important
name. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a young Belgian Morrocan choreographer
already a cult figure here in Europe, makes dense, chaotic pieces
about big topics -- war, race, culture, belief systems, individual
identity, everything short of the kitchen sink. A quirky artist
of the European post-Pina generation, he goes where many have gone
before, recycling more than a few agitprop dance theater conventions,
but adding twists that make his vision as big as the sky and wild
as Vegas. In "Foi," his new work for Les Ballets C de la B, which
premiered last week at the Vooruit and continues through Saturday
in Paris at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah
Bernhardt, Cherkaoui creates a medieval/contemporary
opera, a magnum opus about the terrors of war (talk about timing),
man's inhumanity to man, subtle and brutal forms of violence and
the basic human need for companionship. Cherkaoui knows how to set
a scene, distill gesture and communicate an emotion; in his world,
where the oppressor and the oppressed are frequently one in the
same, we're often left wondering who are the jackals and who are
the quiet, luckless fellas lookin' for love in all the wrong places.
First, though, a few
notes on Les Ballets C de la B (formerly Les Ballets Contemporains
de la Belgique).... C de la B is not a dance company in the traditional
sense, with one artistic director and set company members, but rather
a choreographic collective based in the Boho Belgian college town
of Gent. It actually functions much like Dogma
95, the collective of film directors led by Lars Van
Trier ("Dancer in the Dark," Breaking the Waves") in Copenhagen.
One of the "supreme goals" of Dogma 95 is to force the truth out
of characters and setings, by all means available and "at the cost
of any good taste and aesthetic considerations." C de la B choreographers
don't have to subscribe to the Vow of Chastity of the Dogma 95ers,
but they do seem to have an unwritten modus operandi. The multi-cultural
dancers, actors and musicians all contribute improvised material
based on questions from the choreographer. They tend to prattle
on in a multitude of languages (Dutch, French, English, Korean,
etcetera) about real life events, in tedious detail. They sketch
out patterns of human behavior, sprinkled with humorous elements
that play on stereotypes and odd coincidences. The results of these
collaborations range from the wretched and wildly uneven (Hans van
den Broek's "Lac des singes" and Koen Augustijnen's "Just another
landscape for some juke-box money") to the sublime ("Rien de Rien,"
"It" and "Foi," all by Larbi).
"Foi" takes place in
a prison camp-cum-playground. It's life in the gulag, complete with
commie loudspeakers and a pail to piss in, which one character does
in the course of the piece. The concrete walls that contain these
prisoners confine them and set the physical and metaphysical boundaries
of their lives. And though the characters mill about and wander
in and out of the space, they always end up in the same area of
the twilight zone. "My goodness gracious, we're back in the same
place where we started." Set above this gulag are three bright windows
which hold the musicians of Capilla Flamenca, singing ridulously
lush, polyphonic songs from the Golden Ages. Here, beauty equals
music, beast is situation.
The prisoners are motley
crew. There's the transvestite (think Martin Lawrence in "Big Momma's
House"), a woman searching for her lost son, a blind yogi, a prison
operator with earmuffs, a sexy weathergirl, and various other desperate,
lone souls. While the transvestite goes on about the Lord ("God
is my copilot. Seven days a week I praise his name."), the mother
tapes photos of her son to the wall ("Heeft niemand mijn zon gezien?"
Has nobody seen my son?). The characters listen to each other's
stories with half an ear, nodding periodically, eyes glued to some
image in the distance, a lost thought, a memory. Sometimes angel
figures/human shadows manipulate the limbs and gestures of a character.
One person starts to talk through another, much like a ventriloquist.
A thick-necked apparatchik, all suited up and lifeless, stands in
front while other people feed him words. ("My ass is like the tightest
ass in the whole world." "I am HIV positive. I have my cocktail
everyday.") He becomes a conduit, a filter of other people's gestures,
emotions and anxieties. Alas, we human creatures are oh so malleable.
In one otherwise quiet
moment, a woman sits down and hums, "Jesus loves me for the Bible
tells me so" while slapping herself senseless on the cheeks. In
another rather brutal but funny section, the uber sexy weather girl
with a come hither smile recites the forecast while inadvertently
snapping the neck of one man and slicing the head off another. There's
a rather fine line between humor and cruelty.
Some of the elements
of "Foi" do seem a bit literal and heavy handed. One dying swan
girl gets tarred and feathered beside a chalk outline of a dead
body. The bully wears boxing gloves with American flags on them
and the Big Momma character walks around with his butt stuck out
and sings "Amazing Grace" at a point of epiphany (Why give the only
dark-skinned character on stage a big butt and the dumbest lines?).
On the whole, "Foi" isn't as well-integrated as "Rien de Rien" ("Foi"
is billed as a sort of sequel to "Rien," so the comparison's legit)
and Cherkaoui reuses a lot of the same structuring devices with
broader characters and heavier themes.
Cherkaoui doesn't choose
an easy subject, however, and fuels the melodrama of "Foi" by channeling
one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich into our contemporary world.
He scrupulously mixes and matches body parts, gestures, languages
and cultures to depict the irony of our three-ring reality. When's
the last time you saw a skinny British lady singing Chinese opera
while standing on a man's stomach, disco lights whirling in the
background? In real life, Bedouin children on donkeys are passing
American military vehicles at the edge of the Euphrates. It's a
mad, mad world we live in, and the chances of getting somewhere
over the rainbow are next to nil. Wake up Dorothy, cause this sure
as hell ain't Kansas no more.
Go back to Flash Reviews