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Review Journal, 10-13: Physics and Metaphysics Made Superfun
From Plan B to Plan D with Big Dance Theater and Compagnie 111 and
Without a Parachute
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004 Maura Nguyen Donohue
Photo by Jean-Paul
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NEW YORK -- There seems
to be an abundance of alternative plans running around town right
now. Recently I caught two remarkably different productions both
named "Plan B." But aside from the masterful explosion of categories
like "dance" and "theater," and even, (ahem) "dance theater," New
York's Big Dance Theater, which played at Dance Theater Workshop,
and Toulouse's Compagnie 111 (CIE 111), seen at the New Victory
Theater seem to have little in common.
Big Dance Theater doesn't
make it easy for the audience. The company wants us to work. To
think. To consider the possibilities. Even when working with such
disparate source materials as BDT does for its "Plan B." I couldn't
figure out before viewing the piece how Nixon's secret tapes, German
'wild child' Kaspar Hauser, the Old Testament, Kabuki and Taiwanese
film scores were going to generate a cohesive, engaging work. But
"Plan B" rips through a furious hour during which all things converge
and entwine in a pageant of excellent dance, theater and feast for
I knew from previous
work that artistic directors Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson, with
whom I sit on on DTW's board, are, as we would've said where I grew
up in Rhode Island, "wicked smaht." This complement isn't endowed
simply for Lazar and Parson's heady creations but more sincerely
for their outstanding choices in collaborators, which becomes apparent
before the lights are even on. Jane Shaw's sound design rushes past
us in the dark theater as we hear determined steps leading up to
the sound of a gunshot. Adrenaline bursts and the work begins with
a tight circle of light revealing Tymberly Canale's feet. She begins
a series of furtive bursts of choreography, with hands held paw-like
before she is handed a shotgun and wrapped in a bear skin. We catch
impressions of Hauser, who was abandoned in the woods at the age
of four and wandered into 19th-century Nuremburg 12 years later.
Canale is an innocent wild child, both guileless and barbaric.
The back curtain parts
to reveal a menacing Paul Lazar standing in a clear plastic cabin
and illuminated by cold, white fluorescent tubes. He and Molly Hickok
launch into an argument about the proper disposal of a body, eventually
dropping the lightweight cabin on top of Canale's prone body. We
will spend the remaining hour watching the downward spiral of vice
that will return us to this violent end once again.
Along the way we are
treated to a Nixon-esque Lazar ranting to Hickok, as his assistant
Rose, about his impending downfall while zealously quoting Genesis
and other Old Testament books. She agrees with him, meekly offering
that "God does bring the hardest problems to the strongest men."
They quickly collude to find an 'idiot' to train for a simple briefcase
hand-off. Lazar orates, mumbles, rants and dances like a medium
possessed. He is a whirlwind of rapidly shifting perspective and
tone. Hickok plays Rose with constantly revealing layers of duplicity
and naivete. Canale is entrancing in her simple, childlike portrayal
of an inexperienced patsy and she handles the subtle shifts of Parson's
choreography with exceptional aplomb. Kate Johnson, who danced with
the Paul Taylor and White Oak companies, rounds out the cast serving
as a kind of silent chorus and wry performing stage hand much like
the koken used in Kabuki.
Without the talented
cast "Plan B" would still be a stunning visual tale. The work includes
an amazing array of props and costumes that bring the aesthetic
richness of theater together with tightly woven dance. Seth Williamson's
props are integral enough elements to imply aform of puppetry or
object-based work and Claudia Stephens's costumes hint at the past
and the wild. In one sequence Jay Ryan (with whom my company has
collaborated) lights Lazar chasing after Canale with a kind of magical,
fairy-tale blue light that seems directly culled from a Kurosawa
If Big Dance Theater's "Plan B" is like an Ivy-League romp then
CIE 111's is like the Big 10 conference, all power plays. That isn't
to say these guys are dumb jocks. Under the guest direction of Brooklyn-based
experimentalist Phil Soltanoff, performers Olivier Alenda, Aurelien
Bory, Loic Praud and Alexandre Rodoreda pack a heavy punch of schooling.
In doing so the French troupe achieves what I dream of finding at
every cirque performance I attend: the evolution of a variety of
thrilling circus acts into one unified piece of theater.
The work begins simply,
with one man downstage left strumming on a guitar and another in
a suit holding a briefcase upstage right. But when I say upstage
here I mean literally Upstage. A large metal wall leaning back at
a 45-degree angle takes up most of the stage and will serve as the
main playing space. Here "Plan B" is not so much an alternative
strategy but rather a different plane, again literally, of existence.
(top) and Alexandre Rodoreda (bottom) in Compagnie 111's "Plan
B." Jean-Paul Lozouet photograph copyright Jean-Paul Lozouet
and courtesy the New Victory Theater.
Three others join the
businessman in a continuous flow of falling bodies down the enormous
slide. The descent occurs at a slow, smooth pace except for one
dancer who repeatedly flips himself around, spinning on his back
and dropping quickly. This is physics made superfun. It is all friction
and gravity, resistance and momentum set in an urban playground
complete with luring pulse by sound designer Stephane Ley and Arno
Veyrat's post-modern lighting design.
As the pace accelerates,
pieces of the wall begin to jut forward, creating ledges from which
the dancers can spring and flip. The men use their rubber-soled
shoes to anchor themselves and slow their drops. They look like
dolls being dragged across a board by an invisible magnet, flipping
and diving but always glued to the wall. I can only imagine the
bruising involved in developing what is essentially an exhaustive
bout of floor work.
When the wall shifts
up to vertical the dancers attack it with continued voracity, devouring
every inch of playable space. They walk against the wall while propped
against one another's shoulders, managing to twist and flip and
handstand; one man hangs upside down with his feet wedged into a
tiny window. They run up the wall in a round of boyish one-upmanship.
When the plane changes
alignment one more time and drops to the floor, the performers move
on to their third scenario, or what I'd call Plan D.
Video designer Pierre
Rigal furthers the game of shifting perspectives by projecting a
bird's-eye view of the action onto a back wall. The horizontal performers
can now appear to be truly defying gravity as their images manage
to float in zero gravity, spin over each other's heads or battle
in a riotous kung-fu fight. The bodies fly without ever leaving
Maura Nguyen Donohue is the artistic director of Maura Nguyen Donohue/In Mixed Company .
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