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