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Flash Flashback, 1-20: Performance, Protest, & Peel
Huynh Hunts, Jobin Swims, & Hoghe Springs at Montpellier Danse '04

By Laurie Uprichard
Copyright 2004 Laurie Uprichard

Photography by Nicolas Floc'h

(Editor's Note: To celebrate five years of being online, The Dance Insider is revisiting its Flash Review Archives. This piece originally appeared on August 3, 2004. Emmanuelle Huynh and Nicolas Floc'h's "Numero" received its Paris premiere last night at the Centre Pompidou, where it continues through tomorrow night.)

MONTPELLIER, France -- We're sitting in Montpellier's small Hangar Theater in the dark... for several minutes.... It's really dark -- darker than would be legal in New York. (Where's the Exit sign?) From the audience's right comes a popping sound, then a whooshing sound crosses the space. The "arrow" with a dayglo green wand sticks to the back wall. The next arrow hits the stage right wall. They alternate until there are patterns of dayglo that evoke constellations. The lights slowly come up and you see that large pieces of cardboard lean against these walls. This opening scene of Emmanuelle Huynh and Nicolas Floc'h's "Numero" (Number) is fascinating. Since her first work, "Mua," Huynh has been interested in darkness and the tension it creates. "Numero" goes on to explore almost circus-like "numbers." Floc'h, a visual artist, shuffles around inside a cardboard box while Huynh flicks fishing rods at it. She threads long "swords" through holes in the box. She is a magician dressed in a cat suit with high-heeled boots on which she strides purposefully, rhythmically. She's almost an Emma Peel look-alike.
Emmanuelle Huynh in Huynh and Nicolas Floc'h's "Numero." Photo copyright Nicolas Floc'h and courtesy Heymann, Renoult Associees for the Centre Pompidou.

Though there's not really any dance in this work of Huynh's, her strong, clear presence belies her training. In addition, the irony is subtle, supremely intelligent, and, in a way, very humorous. There's a definite comment on spectacle, the use of tricks in performance, and the idea of the performer as someone who can fool the audience.

Gilles Jobin's "Under Construction" was performed at the Theatre de Grammont, in an unattractive suburb of Montpellier to which the audience is bused. Ten minutes into the work, a disturbance begins. First we think it's just some late arrivals. But the lights come up and the group of mostly men with a few women and children walk down to the stage. The house lights come up. (Are the technicians in league with this group? Everyone's thoughts go back to 2003, when the festival was canceled due to strikes by the Intermittents. See Paul Ben-Itzak's coverage.) The audience is stirring and talking among itself so I don't catch everything the man on stage says -- but it's clear that he's angry that Montpellier Danse gets more of the local budget than the housing situation. (Later I learn that a family is out on the street after its apartment burned and the city won't give them funding to relocate.) Given that this is France, a discussion ensues. Several speakers express solidarity but remind the interlopers that perhaps this audience is not the most useful to address (probably half locals and on their side, the other half from abroad). Finally, the general manager of the festival persuades them to leave and, after a pause, the performance resumes from the beginning. Later that night there's a police presence outside the Cours des Ursulines, a venue in the center of Montpellier.

Unfortunately, this dramatic interruption of the performance was more compelling than the performance itself. Jobin, a Swiss choreographer who has been based in London, explores many of the concerns of the Judson-era choreographers, adding a bit of contact improvisation. His work is often task-oriented and the movement is pedestrian. "Under Construction"'s cast of seven is dressed in colorful pants and shirts which they remove midway through the piece, and put back on toward its end. The stage is large and open with no wings or props, so the bright colors of the pants and shirts that have been left on the floor essentially become the decor. The oddest moment comes when the dancers "dive" under the marley and "swim" across the stage, causing funny lumps in the floor, eventually emerging at another break in the tape.

The highlight of three fantastic days in Montpellier (part of a research trip for the France-USA Dance Partnership. See Paul's coverage.) that included seven performances, meetings with five artists, and several meetings with colleagues, was Raimund Hoghe's "Rite of Spring." Hoghe, a long-time dramaturg with Pina Bausch, is a master of emotional subtlety. The work, a duet with a young athlete, was almost too moving to describe. In addition, Philippe Decoufle's "Iris" was beautiful and intriguing; Anne Lopez is a bright young artist to follow -- her experience teaching autistic children informs her work, and there is some similarity to Remy Charlip in the way she has constructed her piece; and Hamid Benmahi's solo "Chronic(s)" (which we only saw on videotape) is an autobiographical work by a dancer whose background includes hip-hop, classical ballet, and training at the Alvin Ailey school -- another one to watch out for.

(Editor's Note: To read more about Emmanuelle Huynh and Raimund Hoghe on the Dance Insider, just enter their names in the search engine window on the DI Home page.)

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