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Flash Review, 1-13: Glacial Decoys
Probing the Essence of Daniel Leveille's Icebergs

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2005 Chris Dohse

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NEW YORK -- I was profoundly moved by Daniel Leveille's 2003 performance of "Amour, acide et noix." But apparently I got it all wrong. Leveille writes, in the press blurb about his newest piece, "La pudeur des icebergs" (The modesty of icebergs), seen January 6 at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, that "to truly experience, or encounter, this dance performance, one cannot be caught up in the process of deciphering multi-layered meanings."

Damn. I love interpreting the meanings of dances. I was just arguing with someone that whenever you place the human body in space and time, you have potential for meaning, feeling, context, metaphor. But with his icebergs, Leveille has made a dance that even I can't view through internal lenses of meaning. (This same someone feels that my criticism lacks description and is more about me than about the dances I watch. But that's another conversation.)

Well, I do see occasional associations. For instance, at one point the dancers look like ice skaters doing compulsory exercises in competition. There are five male dancers in this piece and one woman. When the men are alone in groups of three or four, an energy of the locker room arises. There's always something scary in that for me, something that could escalate to violence. And I can't squirm away from the somewhat icky, nostalgic, melancholy lens of desire that a middle-aged homo sees through when looking at the naked bodies of beautiful boys.

But Leveille has made it nearly impossible for me to hook any narrative onto his dancers' bodies and their immaculate acts. This is truly the "pure form and stark essence" he writes about.

I'm going to have to lean on Susan Sontag for this one. In memorial of her recent death, I'm reconsidering "Against Interpretation," her polemic inspired by minimalism from 1964. Among many other things, Sontag writes: "Real art has the capacity to make us nervous." And she posits that interpreting, or "taming," this nervousness is "reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling." She calls instead for "criticism which would supply a really accurate, sharp, loving description of the appearance of a work of art."

So, then, to describe Leveille's movement vocabulary: There are bursts of physicality that seem so impossible, you think maybe you blinked and missed something. Frequently (almost too frequently, some actions are repeated to dullness), a one-and-a-half revolution tour en l'air lands in a deep lunge. No staggering, no wobbling. Other jumps end in disjointed, feral rolls. There is a liberal use of stasis, followed by attacks as darting as a snake's tongue. The dancers' faces are almost entirely blank. They are naked. The movement has little filigree, but when it does (hamster-scrabbling hands, hip-thrust buttock) it looks absurd, darkly humorous. The dancers touch only to catch each other or push each other away, and the exceptions are magical: one guy surprisingly petting another's shoulder. Athletic stances recur like glyphs in a stone language. These might be gymnasts without self-congratulation, executing private challenges.

A rather miraculous moment: two of the men rest in shoulder stands after agonizingly rolling into them from a floor stretch in second position with their elbows on the floor. As they tilt sideways ever so slowly (eventually one foot takes the weight on one side), a third guy (the short one who looks endearingly elfin and whose hair needs combing) just looks at them. That's all. He just looks at them. Another: the tall guy with a tan, one leg behind himin a deep lunge, digs his fingers into his rib cage as he arches from the sternum, as if he's cracking himself open. (Okay, I know, I couldn't stop myself from layering ideas like "elfin" and "cracking himself open" onto those concrete acts. But the guy's hair really did need combing.)

Marc Parent's lighting design, which includes a line of fluorescent tubes across the front edge of the floor, an homage to minimalist sculptor Dan Flavin, busies itself with cues and cross-fades that punctuate the dance's glacial pace. Meanwhile, Chopin preludes tinkle off in the corner somewhere, providing what must be tongue-in-cheek daintiness.

Sontag writes, "The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is." How this dance by Daniel Leveille does what it does, as an experience, is through its impact on the viewer's multi-layered mechanism of witnessing. This witnessing evades language, but it resonates deeply with memory and identity. That is the nature of witnessing. The dance simultaneously remains fully itself, separate and inexplicable. I hesitate to imagine that Leveille has created a poetics of the monolith, wherein each moment, each effort, is appreciated for its beauty, its ugliness and its clarity. Pure form and stark essence: each of us interprets it differently.

Daniel Leveille's "La pudeur des icebergs" will be performed February 8 - 9 and his "Amour, acide, et noix" February 11 at the Theatre de Vanves in Vanves, France.

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