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Flash 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.

Psychoanalytic theory 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 in.

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 the dark.

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 floss.

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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