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Flash Review Journal, 2-3: Bombs Away
Sagna Explodes; Hauert Implodes

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

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PARIS -- It's hard to imagine two performance experiences more diametrically opposed than Carlotta Sagna's "Tourlourou," a 30-minute tour de force for the Ballett Frankfurt's Jone San Martin that tore through the Theatre de la Bastille last week, and Thomas Hauert's "Modify," an indulge-o-thon which even the radiant New York dancer (and Tere O'Connor alum) Chrysa Parkinson couldn't save from seeming like the longest 70 minutes of my life. "Tourlourou," by its theme and construction, treats time as the precious commodity it is, while Hauert seems to think we have it to waste.

Along with Emmunuelle Huynh* and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui*, Carlotta Sagna* is the most critical European choreographer to emerge in the past five years. Like Huynh and Larbi -- as he's known in Belgium -- she's also one of the few who's been able to successfully merge dance with theater to form creations which enrich both disciplines. Also like Larbi, Sagna has proved herself capable of making work that draws from the social-political Zeitgeist without submitting to it. "Tourlourou," which takes its name from that given to natives of the Antilles who fought and died for France, is inspired by the 2002 Doubrovka theater siege in Moscow, which ended with many of the hostages being killed by gas pumped into the theater by Russian security forces. Of the 41 Chechen kidnappers -- most also killed -- half were women, sporting both veils and belts packed with explosives.

Sagna's spectacle, which bowed last summer at the Festival d'Avignon and which I caught in its Paris premiere January 27, commences when the bare-legged San Martin, clad in a camouflage-colored tutu and leotard (even her underwear is a drab olive green), mounts a center-stage platform decorated with a target, stands on the bull's-eye and announces, "In 30 minutes, I will exist no more." As a concept, a ballet on the theme of the "kamikaze ballerine," as the PR put it, may seem in poor taste, promising more bombast from the house of needcompany, with whom Sagna worked for a decade, but in practice, it works: This is a dancer -- and a woman -- trying to fully realize the last moments of her life, fully aware she's got 30 minutes of it left, struggling to find the best way to use them and, in the process, impressing us with the vitality of savoring every moment as if, in fact, we all have thirty minutes remaining in our account.

What if you knew for certain, San Martin asks, that tomorrow would be your last day? How would you pass that day -- in the house; surrounded by friends; communing with nature "to search for harmony"? "Or maybe you'd decide to die early." Would you call your friends and bid them "au revoir" -- literally, 'to see again' -- or "adieu" -- farewell? And so it goes, as her time -- and ours with her -- winds down. "In ten minutes," (or maybe it was three) she says later, "you can tell someone 'I love you' 600 times," then launches a litany of the many things you can undertake in this span of time. "In three minutes, you can take a music lesson... while smoking a cigarette."

Sagna and her interpreter use melodrama in spare doses, most forcefully in intermittent notes of the militaristic drum intro to Queen's "We Will Rock You," with San Martin going through her battements at a staccato pace that accentuates their inherent regimented rhythm. Staring fixedly ahead, she even sings the lyrics, her voice trembling in the realization of her diminishing time. At one point she appears to lose her place; the mumbled words with which she conveys this -- "j'ai perdu le fil", "I lost the line" -- form a double entendre that refers also to the life-line. Dance-wise, she also appears to have lost her way, struggling with increasing freneticness, legs stabbing out, limbs reaching to grasp toes as with bent torso she struggles on the ground.

Towards the end, her time apparently up, San Martin halts just before exiting through the curtain upstage right and asks an unseen (and presumably all-knowing) authority, "I have five minutes left? Three minutes?" then re-mounts her box. By this point, she and Sagna have us; we relish the reprieve as much as she does.

By the time she really does leave, for good this time, we don't need a literal or recorded explosion to get the point; our world has been rocked and (one hopes) we will never be the same.


About the only thing Thomas Hauert has in common with Carlotta Sagna is that they both danced for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas. Perhaps it's Sagna's later apprenticeship with needcompany's Jan Lauwers that makes the difference; she knows how to select, compose, and edit. Hauert, by contrast, appears to believe we have nothing better to do than to watch the noodling around of him and his Zoo company collaborators -- they're all credited with the choreography, he with the concept (?) and (lack of) direction. In fact, after I was already locked into my seat at the Theatre de la Ville -Sarah Bernhardt Tuesday evening, I realized with horror that I'd been to this zoo and seen this act once before, when Hauert & company were permitted to monkey around at the Centre Pompidou in 2003. As I wrote at the time, when my companion, "Mom," suggested the work "seemed to be about the aimlessness of modern life," I corrected her, "It's about the aimlessness of much post-modern dance." Hauert has progressed somewhat; he seems to have a concept this time, as suggested by Manon de Boer's backdrop: a photo of what could be my apartment, with clothing and trucs scattered everywhere. The random disarray is certainly mirrored by the choreography, whose content is more appropriate to a first session of improvisation than a finished performance. (At one point, it was so anti-composition I couldn't help thinking: "Modern dancer on the dance floor!") Notwithstanding Parkinson -- clearly in her own zone, enhanced here by an extended dance in a strip of red light -- Sarah Bernhardt would surely have blanched if not raged to see the theater her devastating declaiming established defaced by so much doodling.


*To read about the work of Emmanuelle Huynh or Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, or more about Carlotta Sagna, just enter their names in the search engine window on the Dance Insider Home page.

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