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Flash Review Journal, 10-31: The Outsider
Skimming the Surface with DV8; Floating with Dubois and Duranteau

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- I've seen junior high school revues with more sophisticated satirical punch than "The Cost of Living," DV8 Physical Theatre's superficial screed about outsiders and the tricks we make them do, or something like that, perpetrated last weekend at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, in a co-production with the Festival d'Automne and others.

From the moment when a small legless man pops out of a set of stairs and whirls himself about the room with buffed arms, director Lloyd Newson's point rings as familiar as yesterday's newspaper.

The legless man -- I'm persisting in describing him like this because this aspect of the (quite gifted) performer is exploited as such, and the program didn't identify the performers by roles -- makes jokes about his private parts, and is needled about them by a bully. The same interpreter (the bully) earlier rattles off the prices for which he'll deliver various ballet positions, which he demonstrates with detachment. Another man goads his mate to perform various favorite tricks for us. The apogee comes during a 'beauty contest' when one of the bathing-suited men introduces himself by saying (I paraphrase), "I'm American! I was hired because of my size! I'm afraid if I lose any weight, I'll be out of a job!" You can see the audition ad: "DV8 Physical Theatre seeks Lawrence Goldhuber-type for upcoming work."

And speaking of Goldhuber, he, and his former boss Bill T. Jones, have done this type of thing -- confronting how spectators confront 'atypical' performing body types -- better than Newson and, furthermore, it's just been a starting point for them to developing more complex dramas that ask deeper questions. They've long gone beyond simply identifying the issue, but Newson appears to be unaware that they, or anyone else, has already been there before him.

Last night, on my return from Antwerp, I was stopped on the platform by six black-garbed members of the National Police. They asked me questions, they had me open all my bags -- no such thing as a search warrant here! -- and, focusing on them as the most suspicious objects, the gruffest and biggest of the men shook several cans of Sonia's "Kitekat" Terrine au boeuf cat food, holding them to his ear as if that would help him detect if they really contained nitro-glycerine. He even opened one can and stuck his finger in it. (Sonia usually uses her nose.) I'm in a foreign country, so I was meek and cooperative and returned their "Merci" with my own. But I was pretty rattled. No one is delighted at being stopped and searched by the police, but as a foreign-born person of Jewish descent living in France, I have a particular terror of being stopped by French policemen, whose predecessors rounded up most of the 75,000 Jews deported to the Nazi death camps. This is the second time I've been stopped. In other words, I fit the racial profile -- or the police's racial profile, anyway, based on what race they think I am. (Don't let anyone tell you France is a race-blind country; the race-blind country is the one you're sitting in, American dance insider.)

Returning to this reviewing assignment, I find myself pondering: Why couldn't Mr. Newson have gone a little deeper, and instead of just pretending to reveal our prejudices against people who fall outside what others consider the norm, ask WHY? Why are some people treated differently because of what other people think of them based on the way they look? Why was I stopped on the platform? Why are some noted critics repulsed by dancers who they consider too skinny or too fat? How can people -- be they police at a train station or spectators at a dance performance -- make judgments on people solely by their appearance? Art doesn't always have to answer or even pose difficult questions like this -- expressed with sufficient eloquence, it can sometimes be enough to simply represent the problem. But in choreography, text, music, in fact in all its production values, Newson's "The Cost of Living" is hardly eloquent. Probing no new ground, it's little more than a superficial classroom exercise, and has no place on the serious stage.

Speaking of outsiders, the Festival Art Outsiders, on view at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie here through November 9, includes a choreography-computer whiz collaboration that puts Eshkar-Kaiser to shame.

The theme of this year's festival is "Space," as in Outer, and the choreographic element of Kitsou Dubois and Eric Duranteau's "File/Air, l'ambiguite des limites" appears to have begun in a gravity-less chamber. Here the activity -- which looks largely to involve improvised experiments in partnering -- was captured and graphically re-tooled by Duranteau, the computer whiz half of the collaboration.

In a cave-like chamber in the basement of the facility -- in an ancient building near the Marais and not far from the Seine -- the dancers are projected, in white chalk outline (a la a victim's tracing at a crime scene) on the granite walls, curved ceiling, floor, two transparent scrims intersecting the space, and even you, should you choose to walk between the two facing projectors. As choreography, "File/Air" is more about discovering how to move and partner without gravity than imagining how to do so creatively; one dancer seems to lift another by the neck and flip her over him, another flies vertically apparently suspended only by a partner's hold on her wrists. They scale the walls of the spaceship-like interior where the piece appears to have been shot, in turn projected on the wall of the exhibition space. And they move, or float, in ethereal slow motion.

Eshkar-Kaiser's work, at least as seen in Merce Cunningham's "Biped," has always left me a bit cold, the computer-manipulated images not coming up to the live ones being produced by the choreographer and the dancers. With "File/Air," choreographer Dubois and 'image scenographer' Duranteau have made a more integrated work, in which each artist's talent complements the other's, and in which the method of working matches the subject.

Festival Art Outsiders continues through November 9 at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, 5-7 rue de Fourcy. The festival's web site is rather horrendous, so I'm not going to send you there, but I would like to send you to the Maison any Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m., when it's free and quite the scene, without being too trendy.

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