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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
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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