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Flashback, 6-23: Let Them Eat Chocolate Pistachio Mousse
Gallows Humor from Emmanuelle Huynh
Copyright 2002, 2005 The Dance Insider
(Editor's Note: To
celebrate its fifth anniversary of being online, the Dance Insider
is revisiting its Flash Review Archives. This Flash originally appeared
on April 9, 2002.)
PARIS -- Last night I
saw what must be the ultimate in site-specific work: Just yards
from where Marie-("Let them eat cake") Antoinette was imprisoned
before she was beheaded, an orange-shirted dancer rattled off a
litany of French pastries, from apple tart to quiche Lorraine, while
behind her three others perpetrated a revolution on the set, toppling
tables that had been meticulously crafted into two malleable stages
at the beginning of the evening. Emmanuelle Huynh's droll "Bord
Quatre," subtitled "Tentative for corps (body), texte, et tables,"
unfolded under the shadow of the mammoth prison cell bars of the
Conciergerie on the Ile de la Cite, in a former palace to the Capetian
kings, a building one of whose towers is 632 years old and boasts
the oldest clock in Paris, and which found its most notorious use
as the holding cell for the French queen, Danton, Robespierre and
other not-so-famous victims of the Revolution and the Terror and
post-Terror upheaval that followed. This sort of guillotine holding
room is hardly the setting for a romp, and yet I have to say that
Huynh seems intent on putting the humor back into post-modern dance.
The romping, and the
evening, start with the tables. Here Huynh takes her cue from the
giant fragment of a medieval marble table posted on a wall of the
giant hall. From the 14th to the 18th century, says a plaque, the
table from which this artifact comes was used for royal banquets,
tribunals, and law courts. (The three barred arches which loomed
behind the stage held Marie-Antoinette and others.)
The basement space has
been flooded before -- lines about my height indicate the level
the water reached in the great inundation of 1910 -- and this too
Huynh seems to recognize as she begins the evening's movement by
swimming across and around the stage on her back. Propelling herself
by her legs, an arm extended as navigator, Huynh is exploring. She
soon has more to explore, as Matthieu Doze starts unstacking a pile
of orange-surfaced silver table-tops. Her space becomes more and
more constricted, the narrow space between rows of table-tops a
channel which she still tries to ford. Then a table-top is placed
on her prone body, and soon the other dancers, Wouter Krokaert and
Elise Olhandeguy (she'll read the pattiserie list later) enter to
help set up two stages made from tables, using the tops and frames
planted at the edges of this theater in the round.
These two surfaces become
the performers' playgrounds. A slat is moved to create a gap through
which they slip, twist, slowly somersault and fall into the cavities
of each other's bodies. Tables become doors are suddenly dropped;
Olhandeguy becomes a door, going stiff and being caught just in
time by Doze.
All this is executed
mostly in silence, with Manuel Coursin's spare percussive soundtrack
or live mouth sounds from Filiz Sizanli occasionally adding texture,
especially at moments of accelerated movement and dramatic tension.
Cathy Olive's sepulchral way of prisming shafts of light was finally
made clear to me on this second viewing of Huynh's work: footlights
in the section of the stage to be illuminated were turned on and
projected onto metal panels which overhung the stage, which in turn
reflected the subdued light back on the performers.
Text was integral, read
in four different parts by the four dancers, but of course, you
know me -- the only one I completely understood was Olhandeguy's
recitation from the shelves of a boulangerie. Physically and dramatically,
this section resembled a children's game I can't quite place. While
she was reading, her back turned to them, Olhandeguy's three colleagues
would creep towards her, dissembling the tables and propping them
against a center column. When suddenly she'd stop and flick her
head around to try to catch them, they'd freeze. Finally they surrounded
and made ready to pounce and imprison her with walls of table-tops,
and she fled.
My one criticism of
"Bord Quatre" might have been that the action ranged around all
four corners of the space, and because of the thick columns -- which
make those at NYC's P.S. 122 look like thin sticks! -- no matter
where you sat, at some point in the evening a scene was going to
be obscured from your view. But even this apparent obstacle was
eventually used to great comedic effect: In the final section, one
by one the dancers are flown about the room by their colleagues,
sitting on their shoulders as on a throne, for example; stiff and
prone with limbs spread, Superman-style; or, as Huynh in one of
her turns, with a hand forming a gun. Suddenly they are dropped
or, in Huynh's case, run smack into a column, the column spread-eagling
their limbs out on both sides. So, when this lifting and flying
took place in the corner I couldn't see, the crash-bang that ensued
was almost more fraught with humor because we had to imagine what
had just happened this time.
I've probably given
disproportionate weight to Huynh's humor because a)the food-centered
text was easier for me to understand and b)abstract post-modern
dance is always a challenge for me to describe, and it helps when
I have a hook like humor. But I'll try to at least give you a sense
of the effect, if not a very complex description of the architecture,
of a couple of the other sections.
To a text more direct
and intimate in nature, Huynh and Olhandeguy broke off from the
guys for an exquisite, even sensual duet. It didn't matter that
their clothes were Judson-androgynous and plain, Olhandeguy in gray
slacks to go with her orange blouse, Huynh in a red t-shirt, jeans,
and sneakers -- as they rolled around the floor, Huynh sometimes
on top gently straddling her partner, the effect produced fell somewhere
between play-wrestling and romantic encounter.
The ensemble action
at the start began, with a group nod after the tables had been assembled,
with a sort of group hug, constantly reconfigured as if the performers
were trying to find the right combination of their bodies. This
huddling was not removed; occasionally a dancer would embrace another's
back with her arm, or nestle her head on a colleague's shoulder.
It was a sort of bonding, perhaps in preparation for the more (geographically)
scattered explorations and inventions that would follow.
Setting-wise, it will
be hard for Emmanuelle Huynh to match the Conciergerie with all
its ghosts and caverns of sound and history -- did I mention that
the repeated rattling of chains and keys was also part of the soundscore,
seeming to arrive as an echo from a distant corner of the vast hall
(or of the past)? But most of all what I sense from her -- both
in the way "Bord Quatre" played out and in her inquisitive, always
searching and groping personal performing demeanor -- is that Huynh
is an investigator in the best post-modern tradition; an excavator.
Whether her playground is of the spatially and historically vast
model provided by a space like the Conciergerie, or simply the body,
Emmanuelle Huynh is listening to what the terrain is telling her.
And whether her next space is a castle or a classroom, I for one
will follow her there.
If you're in or near
Paris, you can follow Emmanuelle Huynh's Compagnie Mua through Thursday
at the Conciergerie, where "Bord Quatre" is being presented by Monum
and the Menagerie de Verre. The presentation is part of Inaccoutumes
13 - Evenement choregraphique, continuing through April 21.
Text was by Christophe
Tarkos, and designs were implemented by Nicolas Floc'h.
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