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Flash Review 3, 1-14: My One and Not Only
Appaix has Gotta Dance, And Sing, and Mug, and....

By Melanie Rios
Copyright 2004 Melanie Rios

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PARIS -- "A miraculous alliance of music, text and voice," as Georges Appaix's "Non Seulement" (Not Only) is billed -- out on a limb here! -- premiered at the Theatre de Ville Abbesses this past week. Has Appaix discovered a new and out-of-this-world recipe for mixing these ingredients? It's not Coca-Cola or Wagnerian Opera, nor is it a smoother mix baked in a convector oven. A medley of song, dance and spoken word it was, albeit unimaginative and saved from becoming sugar-water innocuous by the performer's panache, which came in great doses. Appaix set out to create an amusing evening, partly a contemporary version of the musical genre, and was supported by his multi-talented cast, which included musicians Marcel Atienzar (accordion, bandoneon, and trombone) and Pascal Gobin (guitars) and dancer/singers Jean-Paul Bourel, Francois Bouteau, Montaine Chevalier, Stephane Imbert, Sabine Macher and Appaix.

Coincidentally, earlier this month, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, I sat through a representative species in the "musical" genre. For "Live Jazz" -- actually billed as a "new kind of musical" -- Gordon Davidson brought together a group of experienced collaborators including composer Cy Coleman, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman and writer Larry Gelbart. It was a real crumb cake straight out of a "How to produce a musical" handbook, with honest, hard working performers who where playing the crowd in good old-fashioned show-biz style. It made no excuses for itself, using delineated saxophones in bright light as scenery, educating the spectator on the instruments of a jazz band, strolling from number to number and riling up a standing ovation at its conclusion. It is my guess that Georges Appaix offers his version of the entertaining musical by avoiding its cliches, not talking down to the audience, and incorporating this standard form into the contemporary aesthetic, where he landed on the spectrum of stylistic similarities that have become more the norm than the exception in contemporary European dance productions. These include: video projections, novel colors for the marley floors, a stand-up microphone for the dancers, hanging slick bulbs, and not using the wings or dressing the stage, amongst other things. (The video material may be projected onto the back screen, on numerous other screens in different areas of the stage and/or onto the performers. In the United States having a choice of color marley is a luxury reserved for the well-funded, who -- inclining towards the mainstream -- may not have the itch to conceive of an orange floor as an option.) All of these established criteria where used generously in "Non seulement."

It was off to a fun and funky start as a larger-than-life white silhouette of a woman was projected onto a back screen. As if dancing in her 1950s living room, she strings along popular moves from the dance floor in silence. A quartet of two men and two women move into the stage space, performing a variation of the dance floor collage -- a little salsa, a little swing and a little rock. Appaix, performing as an Elvis Presley-inspired type, goes through the pantomime of delivering a song with the volume muted. A character that reminds me of the Fonz, and is to play the funny fool, the awkward hipster or himself throughout the evening, encourages the Presley impersonator to really sing. Thus begins what will be the form of the performance: a series of intertwined vignettes composed of live singing, song potpourris, spoken text and modern dance interjected with popular dance moves and generic partnering. The video projections are images in black and white of close-ups of the performers or of their musical instruments. An undulating red accordion makes for a striking backdrop in one section.

A long and sympathetic Stephane Imbert takes the space in a solo of outstretched limbs and clear lines. As I remember him from his years of elegant dancing for Odile Duboc, Imbert's execution of movement is relaxed and neat, and although still enjoyable to watch, he would have been put to better use if he had been given more memorable material to work with.

A duet in which one of the dancers is a human puppet squeaking out disparate sounds and short segments of song as a result of being manipulated by another dancer provokes giggles and laughter from the audience. The puppet dancer, at the mercy of a force not within his control, takes off solo in what seems like awkward and bound sweeping gestures. Because bound and awkward are usually banned from gracious dancing, I welcome their inclusion in the palette. A curly-haired female singer dives into "Magdalena," a song in Spanish -- "tan adorable como una reina" (as adorable as a queen.) Later, the same woman (the program did not specify which performers gave which songs) delivers a frenetic Beatles medley, moving around like an impatient child on a red piano bench, jumping from one phrase of a song to another. Watching and listening to her -- working like a dog as we all live in a sky full of diamonds -- I am made aware of how many of these songs I know and how familiar they are. Indeed, I think this was part of Appaix's intent -- to open an album full of references to songs in the collective memory of popular modern western society. Even if you don't speak Spanish you can probably complete the second word to the refrain Besame, besame mucho. The songs include "Die Ballade com ertrunkenen Madchen" (Brecht-Weill), "Rimes" (Nougaro-Romano), "Mi Magdalena" (Bojalil,) "Sabor a mi" (Carrillo,) a cha-cha-cha, and even bits and pieces of Bob Marley's "Get up, Stand up."

Humor runs through the piece, exemplified in a game of charades being drawn out as a slowpoke guesser fails to see that the answer is "El Zorro." Like high school buddy pictures, the screen is now used to project frozen instant images of the cast fighting over a microphone. We can see the live performers in profile. But simultaneous broadcasting is old hat in the contemporary dance scene and at the end of the day I can't seem to find the choreography. I know it's there but it doesn't do much, as if it were the neglected child of the production. Unfortunately, this is what seems to often happen when you have a choice of color marley.

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