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Flash Review, 5-3: Tricks no Treat
No Marvels in Decoufle's "Tricodex"

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2004 Angela Jones

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NEW YORK -- Now it seems that even the French are pandering to the ubiquitous American penchant for for tricks and shtick. Totally unlike "Shazam!," Philippe Decoufle's newest extravaganza "Tricodex," seen April 23 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on the Lyon Opera Ballet, is utterly predictable both in its rhythm as well as its content.

Decoufle was inspired to create Tricodex from the Codex Seraphinianus, "a visual encyclopedia of an Imaginary Universe," according to the program notes, and "a codified world of mythical animals, imaginary plants, insects, mathematical equations, hairstyles, playing cards, flying machines, and labyrinths." What we see from the start are creatures that seem to have walked directly out of Cirque du Soleil rather than the fantastical Codex.

In the first third of the piece, the dancers wear long springy pieces on their heads, hands, waists and big webbed feet. These sperm/protozoa entities alternately try to amuse and entertain us with their strange encumbered movements. But the interactions between the dancers are never developed and each segment becomes a one-trick pony that abruptly stops the moment the basic visual idea is exhausted. Certain costumes and props even seem to be almost direct copies from past Cirque du Soleil shows like "Saltimbanco." Decoufle is a master at using video with dance, but even in this arena, he neglects to use his extensive talents. The only use of video is in the opening, to create a dark flickering effect on the amoeba creatures, and then it is never used again.

Eventually the piece finally emerges from the primordial ooze stage and begins to sustain some plant and animal life. There is one moment when a dancer with short red hair whips out a stunning solo that somehow manages to bridge the gap between the human and non-human as we hear faint voices in the background that begin to become amplified. Suddenly we begin to think, "Aha, the beginning was all a joke, now the piece is starting." Very unfortunately however, that feeling is soon spoiled by the gratuitous miming of a caveman who makes ape noises and runs at the audience with his bone. He ends the segment by suddenly ripping off his fur pieces and standing upright in tiny striped briefs. Then comes a crash of glass and we are transported to Greece, where muscular men apparently pose and flounce about. The indulgence of this gay male fantasy is amusing for the first minute or so but like many of the other sections, lacks any real meaning, so it quickly loses its impact. Suddenly we are in an industrial future with people on strange machines in the air, dangling sideways and upside down. The atmosphere is very cirque-like but since none of the dancers have any real circus skills, the apparatuses are quickly abandoned. "Tricodex" then degenerates into a series of random unrelated duets and solos using bungee cords, 360 degree harnesses, etc. all seeming to have little or no purpose in furthering the piece.

I wish that Decoufle would have done some homework and watched some older tapes of Momix, Pilobolus, Diavolo, Nikolais/Louis or Lisa Giobbi. (He apparently studied with Nikolais.) Working with large or unusual props and costumes is difficult to do well and maybe if he would have seen it done in a real and truly interesting way, he might have been inspired to go further into his own work. With 25 beautiful dancers, space, time and an unlimited budget, there is absolutely no excuse for putting out half-baked ideas whose sole purpose is to create a superficial onslaught of images. I found it interesting to listen to the audience after the show because although much of the audience loved the hip, cool effects, no one talked of ideas or understandings. Nor wasanyone challenged in any way. It broke down into two categories, the sensually stimulated and the bored who had seen it before. The one thing I thought I could count on the French for is a little intellectual/emotional content but sadly, it seems like the MTV sensibility has managed to permeate every corner of the art world.

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