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Review Journal, 1-12: Redemption Song
Running in Place with Hans Van den Broeck; Running from Hoghe's 'Sacre'
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- When Edwin
Denby said* dance criticism needs more poets and less academics
(I paraphrase), he must have recognized the futility of trying to
offer a sensical description of what is often a poetry of movement,
an attempt to articulate in and on the body that which is impossible
to articulate in words. Put more simply, if it could be captured
in words, it would have been written in them. Still, the reporters
among us (including your correspondent) usually feel impelled to
try to find the story, the narrative, the message in the dance before
us, so that we can bring it to you second-hand as it were, in a
medium not the one of choice for the work's creator. Program notes
are as often a hindrance as a help, promising more intellectually
than the choreographer is able to physically (and coherently) probe.
In the case of "Almost Dark," the latest work from the Brussels-based
ex-Ballets C. de la B. choreographer Hans Van den Broeck, a look
at the program notes before the show actually helps, as a signpost
to the problems about to be addressed, if not fully resolved.
In my feeble French,
anyway, Jean-Marc Adolphe's program notes for last night's performance,
at the Theatre de la Ville - Les Abbesses in Montmartre, suggest
"Almost Dark" will tackle the problem of how we surmount family
psycho-histories to forge new relationships. The vehicle will be
In what most closely
resembles a sort of green room -- coffee table in the back, lockers
lining stage left, a shower stall behind them and benches in front
of them, and portable seating at stage right -- six people are situated.
At the audience end of this row of lockers a sink and mirror are
attached. Extending about a third of the way across the downstage
from the stage-right wing is a sort of elevated scaffold beam, from
whose end drops another beam, attached to which is a call box with
a big red buzzer. Halfway into the piece, someone will scrawl "To
kill love may wound" in white chalk across the elevated beam.
The buzzer starts the
action in what is eventually, and literally -- through an offstage
narrator speaking in English -- revealed as a "Redemption" course.
First we have to shake it all out, as the ensemble does by running
in place in a horizontal line. The only body parts not vibrating,
until the end of the segment, are the performers' feet, which remain
firmly planted on the floor. Early on, they repeat, sotto voce:
"They're coming to take me away, hah-hah, ho-ho." They breathe and
pant audibly. Shoulders and heads jerk suddenly, punctuating the
passage and reverberating through the rest of the body. Suddenly
they stop, except for Harold Henning, who takes an easy chair and
can't stop vibrating. Maria Ohman, sitting on an arm of the chair,
tries to steady him by taking his hands, but she just picks up his
vibration and is soon shaking too.
Neutrally dressed at
first according to what could be personal preference -- one man,
Gustavo Miranda, dances barefoot, while one woman, Carole Bonneau,
balances on stilettos for much of the piece, most rivetingly when
they seem to motor her shaking body across the room -- the members
of this family break off and become more distinct. Harold Henning
dons the garb of a flic (cop) or park guard, while Palle
Dryval straps on cardboard wings and starts flapping them. The group's
dynamic at its most malevolent comes out when, the stage darkening
ominously and a wind seeming to sweep across it, Ohman suddenly
starts, witch-like (just by pointing her hands at them) hurling
objects around. Presumably exercising her magic on Dryval, she makes
him divest himself of the wings, strip to his underwear and eventually
out of it, and start barking and panting and begging and rolling
on his back like a dog. Right away I thought, "Obligatory Belgian
dance nudity moment" (sometimes it seems it must be a funding requirement)
but this time I was wrong. Miranda joins in teasing the 'dog,' barking
back and laughing at him. Eventually Dryval wakens from the spell,
realizes embarrassedly that he's naked and, resentfully scowling
at Ohman, hurriedly retrieves his underwear and, modestly turning
his back to us, puts it and his wings back on. Humiliation is this
family's demon, and it has been unveiled.
The next (I may be skipping
one) session of the redemption course -- we know it's a session
because the offstage voice tells us so -- involves finding a partner
and then pushing him/her away and coming back together. Some go
too far: Repeatedly slammed against the lockers by him with alarming
force, Bonneau starts giving Miranda looks that say, "Overdoing
it a bit, aren't we?" Yet even the "Embrace" session can't seem
to throttle all the violence; if Bonneau and Miranda truly embrace
with caressing enthusiasm, two of the men interpret the command
as allowing them to charge and jump into the partner's arms, invariably
knocking him to the ground.
Finally this session
ends, and everyone takes a coffee break, around a table at about
stage center -- except for Dryval, who can't stop moving. Ohman
grabs him, perhaps trying to arrest him, but just gets stuck to
him and pulled into the whirl. Bonneau tries to unpry her from behind
him and gets stuck too, backed up against the lockers. Others try
to help, with similar results. Meanwhile, whoever's not involved
in this -- most drolly the choreographer -- maintains a casual coffee-klatch
conversation over the table. Finally Dryval tumbles onto the table
with Ohman, scattering everybody. Standing on the table-top for
a moment, he fixates on Bonneau, jumps off and races after her.
She spreads her arms, drolely, as if to evade being stuck to him,
but it's no good. I should mention that during this sequence, composer
Nic Roseeuw's choice is brilliant -- a Bachian fugue, amped up diabolically
whenever Dryval claims a new victim.
everyone is swirling with a partner, waltz-like, around the table.
An elygiac ending, it seems, but the piece, like life, is not so
simple. A harangue by Henning at the callbox follows. (Here my French
fails me.) He disappears for a moment to reappear from the stage
right curtain balancing along the beam above the stage; traffic
noises are heard, suggesting he's precipitated himself perilously
over a highway. Suddenly Bonneau slides out from the wing -- sitting
on the beam, while he is trying to stand. She mutters something
unintelligible. He turns to look, loses his balance, and falls as
the lights black out.
"Almost Dark," a production
of SOIT co-produced by the Theatre de la Ville and La Rose des Vents,
continues through Saturday at the Theatre de la Ville - Les Abbesses.
I'd intended to review Raimund Hoghe's "The Sacre - The Rite of
Spring" today too, inspired by my colleague Laurie Uprichard's brief
notes on the piece in her Flash Journal of last summer. (By mutual agreement,
Laurie restricted herself to just some notes, rather than a full
review.) But the piece seems to have lost something en route from
Montpellier, where Laurie caught it, and the Theatre de la Bastille,
where I attempted to see it Monday -- or rather, gained something,
specifically, many decibels. Stravinsky's music carries its own
thunder in the composition, and did not need to have its volume
pumped up to the degree it was at this theater Monday. After wet
tissues in the ears and mom's new scarf wrapped around them failed
to diminish the decibels, I chose an early exit over hearing loss.
It's not for me to say whether artists need to suffer for their
art, but audiences -- even critics -- shouldn't have to.
What did you think of this Flash Review? E-mail author Paul Ben-Itzak
*In his entry on dance criticism for the "Dance Encyclopedia," edited
by Anatole Chujoy. (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1967.)
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