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Review, 1-6: Walkabout
The Obscured Objects of Brice Leroux
By Melanie Rios
Copyrigt 2004 Melanie Rios
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PARIS -- There are four
dancers. Four dancers walk. Four dancers walk in interlocking circles.
Circles are eternal. They walk in almost total darkness. They are
walking before we enter and they are walking as we leave. Walk,
walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk.
Under the title "Gravitations-quatuor,"
choreographer Brice Leroux's creation performed at the Theatre de
la Ville - Abbesses can be cataloged as a well realized experience
in Minimalism. Like many other people in the audience, I was bored
silly for large stretches. I also left feeling elated, purified
and convinced that this was important work worth every penny of
its funding. (The piece received support from, among others, the
Flemish Community, the festival d'Automne a Paris, and the Theatre
de la Ville.)
Just like when you're
watching a fire or cloud-gazing, thoughts often seem to pass GO,
collect $200, and escape jail, Monopoly-style, when viewing "Gravitations
- quatuor." Boredom sets in when your thoughts land in jail and
either you don't have the resources to post bail or don't feel inclined
to do so.
states that boredom results from the inability to free-associate,
which in turn means you are trying to keep back uncomfortable thoughts.
In this context, I don't think that whether a given work bores or
entertains me is an accurate barometer for measuring its worth.
Can you sit with it? is one of the questions that I felt I was being
asked during this ritual circle dance.
A barely audible cricket-like
sound is coming from the open dark stage as the audience enters.
The lights dim and remain so throughout the performance. I can barely
make out the ghostly figures that seem to sweep through the space
as if on dollies. Slowly a pattern emerges of four people walking
in individual circles which interlock frequently. The suspicion
that this is it and that this is all there will be begins to creep
Everything points to
the rigor and constraints of the Minimalist endeavor, which include
repetition, slight imperceptible changes, use of geometrical forms
and the distillation of the material into it's purest form. For
the post-Modern choreographers of the late 1960s, the aesthetics
of the movement were a means by which to strip dance from its mimetic
narrative or portrayal of emotion. Perhaps Leroux felt it was time
for another purge.
It is useful to picture
the stage evenly divided into four imaginary quadrants that overlap
slightly. Each dancer has his or her own quadrant which in turn
has a "set" of circles in it, the largest circle occupying a little
over one fourth of the stage. The circle which is being used as
the path for each of the four dancers is usually the one lit. Since
the four dancers are stepping at the same time, the alteration in
the length of their steps affects the distance between them. The
result is a little bit like looking into a Kaleidoscope: The figures
come close to each other, cross in front of each other, separate
-- all while walking their varying circles. Just do the math --
four walkers, interlocking circles -- and you come up with many
possibilities in this geometric structure. Irene Filiberti describes
the work in the program as "a mathematically perfect choreography
and an ingenious optical illusion." What she calls "the optical
illusion" is partly created by the costumes. The performer's tunics
are black from the hip downward, almost as black on their backs,
and cream-colored in front. The palette of Leroux's lighting is
constituted by dim to dimmer to dark, and thus the dancers' torsos
are more or less visible when facing the audience. The four faces
and eight legs are never visible. Which leaves us, more accurately,
with four torsos walking.
Suddenly I remember
reading a sign posted in the lobby warning spectators to seek out
an usher if they suffer from claustrophobia. Don't think of pink
elephants. Can I sit with it?
After 20 minutes into
the performance I am accustomed to the cricket-like sound which
is produced by the costumes as the dancers walk. Occasionally the
constant and even sound of their walking is accompanied by some
audience members sighing, fidgeting or shuffling to sneak out in
I am wondering why Leroux
was so strongly drawn to creating a piece in 2003 so strictly bound
to the Minimalist ideas of the 1960s. I am uneasy to assume that
he is simply continuing where his mentor Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
left off in "Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich,"
her faithful ode to Reich's Minimalist music composition. Leroux
does show that to adhere so fervently to Minimalism's implacable
rules of no diversion still takes courage and/or compulsiveness.
His contribution to the development of the movement in this day
and age is through his attention to subjecting absolutely all the
elements of the production to this aesthetic aim. The costumes are
not overlooked as they sometimes were in the early stages of Minimalism,
by all dancers just being dressed casually. The execution by the
dancers is flawless and committed. Leroux has come up with an efficient
and surprising geometrical structure. He has incorporated the development
of sophisticated lighting to aid in the creation of a "floor plan"
which serves as tracks for the dancers -- yet the lighting changes
only in tiny increments. The production is tight and waxed like
I like to think of Brice
Leroux and the other performers, Wendy Cornu, Dolores Hulan and
Zol Knights going round and round in their everlasting ritual as
if the rain for the crop, or the next commission depended on it.
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