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Flash Review 2, 10-7: Solitary Confinement
Simple Codes from Daniel Larrieu

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

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PARIS -- My initial response to the opening of Daniel Larrieu's "N'oublie pas ce qu tu devines" ("Don't forget what you've deciphered," roughly translated) was to exhale. A French dance concert that began with pure movement, exquisitely executed! What a promising omen for my dance 're-entree,' as we call the fall return to work and school here, following last season, when I'd begun to wonder if I'd ever see dance on a French dance stage again. As this season began, the portents were not necessarily good. Continuing his own spiral into the void -- not that the funders or, for that matter, US tour sponsors are noticing -- Angelin Preljocaj opened the season with a piece whose advance PR literally warned pregnant women, epileptics and, effectively, migraine sufferers like me to stay away. (Incredibly enough, the work was not called "Near Death Experience." Although the composer did say his mission was to assault the audience, or words to that effect.) Yes, his bag of movement tricks empty, the ancient enfant terrible of French dance was reduced to playing with a strobe light.

But we're at Daniel Larrieu, or were last night in the cavernous downstairs hall of the Centre Pompidou, and we're exhaling at the site of three short- or bun-haired and well-defined female movers, in simple solid color civilian dresses, covering the stage in more or less unison, the main motif being the circle or spin, usually initiated and propelled by an uplifted arm, followed by a dip. They're joined by some men eventually, but this basic scheme continues, and I realize that this will be the kind of spectacle that challenges my normal critical strengths because it's neither original nor offensive enough to get me singing its praises or damning its crimes. Fortunately, I had the benefit of the counsel of a dancer companion, and what follows distills some of our conversation afterwards, with one conclusion original to me.

We both agreed, in our post-game analysis at the chic Cafe Beauborg after-party (discretion is not so much a factor when you can analyze in a foreign language), that the happy music segments were problematic. There were three of them, and the segues from the predominant ponderous space music were just too jarring. Actually it wasn't just the music segues, but the accompanying tempo changes in the movement. To the ponderous music, the dancing was often slo-mo. Then a chord change would come -- as when we shifted from silky space to jangling guitar -- and suddenly everyone would converge on the stage at increased tempi and with lifted moods and it was like (if I can go Californian on you), where did that come from? To this criticism, my dancer companion injected this nuance: She liked seeing the ensemble work, the coming together, as relief to passages where the performers seemed to move in isolation -- not alone on stage but protecting their solitude by their demeanors or by projecting an arm perpendicular to their shoulders, literally keeping their fellows at arm's length. I didn't see this nuance; I just saw a generally over-used gesture over-used specifically in this show. (One of the duets played poignantly with the idea of solitude; you never realized how alone the pair had been even together until they fleetingly clasped hands.)

In general, according to the program notes, "In this homage to pure movement, the gestures distill vaporous emotions." The problem for me was that the movement itself was too vaporous, language we'd seen before, with few original variations. And the variations that did surface seemed to owe more to the idiosyncracies of an individual mover than an overall plan from the choreographer, as when a lanky man in red pants tic'd from different loci in his body, most rivetingly spasms in his butt as he walk-hobbled offstage.

About all that was original in the video projections was the name of their creator (deep breath), patrickandredepuis1966. As far as visual art, dancemakers simply shouldn't go there at a place like the Pompidou museum, where more interesting experiments can be found in the upstairs galleries. As for patrickandredepuis1966's contribution, the computer-generated patterns on my Itunes program are more enticing. And, as my dancer companion pointed out (not so acerbically), what was the point of having the dancers wheel around the projectors?

Composer Scanner seemed to do just that, sometimes randomly, as when a '30s samba style chanson suddenly appeared for no apparent reason.

Otherwise, the music was cool, BUT I decided to play the "what if this was being performed in silence?" game and concluded that stripped thus the choreography would seem flat. In fact, I concluded that perhaps the running-away-from-our-dance-roots experiments of younger choreographers that so exasperated me last season -- Larrieu began creating in the '80s -- can be explained thus: Having seen the ideas of the preceding generation dry up, the young'uns decided that instead of resorting to the regurgitation of Larrieu or the cheap tricks of Preljocaj, they would simply stop moving, and explore a different path, hoping to find their way back home eventually. They may be on the right track. As one of the characters in Edward Albee's "Zoo Story" says, sometimes you have to take the long way around to get home.

Daniel Larrieu's "N'oublie pas ce qu tu devines" is smoothly moved and interpreted by Jerome Andrieu, Agnes Coutard, Christine Jouve, Anne Laurent, Joel Luecht, and Larrieu. It's reprised tonight and tomorrow night at the Centre Pompidou. To read my 2001 review of Larrieu's "Cenizas," please click here.

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