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Letter from New York, 1-25: Band Running On
Too Many Parts from Pisani

By April Biggs
Copyright 2007 April Biggs

NEW YORK -- Each time I enter Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, the quiet overtakes me -- that is until I look around to be sure I am dressed appropriately shabby-chic. On this Thursday night, January 18, the audience is crammed into metal chairs in the altar of the sanctuary to see French choreographer Martine Pisani and her troupe, La compagnie du solitaire, present "Bande a part." I note the unusual number of patrons pushing out conversations in French, which I cannot understand, as the 8:30 start time comes and goes. La compagnie du solitaire has been in residence at Joyce SoHo for two weeks, its visit to New York culminating in this weekend of performances.

The word "Prologue" is projected onto the lower frame of the balcony behind the stage. A tall thin man with frizzy hair enters the space and delivers a monologue, confessing how nervous he is about removing his clothes. "I want to make sure it doesn't turn into some sort of striptease," he assures us in his thick French accent. Laughter ascends the walls of the church. A virgin to Pisani's work, I had no idea what to expect, but the opening assured me that, if nothing else, I would be entertained. The program read: "Each show is a different one," an improvisational game with specific structures such as the musical score, the subtitles and particular movement phrases to buttress the characters' goal: to "reshape the presence of four people into a solo form."

Throughout the evening, an array of subtitles, such as "The Soloist's Story" and "Alone At Last," loom across the balcony, a dim light bulb above the moving bodies. For the second section, "The Soloist's Story," the space becomes a garage band's paradise -- sparsely equipped with wires, an amp, a mic and water bottles. The quartet's clothes remind me of the technicolor TV days of the Monkees, and indeed both foursomes share a similar freeze-frame comedic flair. The dancers -- Christophe Ives, Théo Kooijman, Eduard Mont de Palol and Olivier Schram -- begin by adding to each other's poses, as if creating a flip book. Simplicity can be refreshing so I watch in anticipation of the game's evolution. Unfortunately, it takes too long to come. My left brain kidnaps me, wondering how the French theatrical aesthetic differs from the American one; noticing that even though I don't speak French, I get the occasional French joke; and growing curious about Pisani's choice in performers, at least two of whom lack the physical dexterity which is so revered in the New York dance scene. These men are apparently not trained as dancers and, according to the program, have rather extensive theatrical backgrounds, yet what they lack in physical articulation they make up for in timing and facial expression. In "Bande a Part," risk is more prevalent than precision -- but this can be terribly distracting if it jostles the mind back to the clumsy novice in the improvisation class who sort of fumbles his way through and inevitably atop the dancers. Don't get me wrong, I respect that guy and what he's trying to do, but when the vocabulary is predominantly movement and presented on stage, I expect some degree of mastery. Perhaps I am a snob. Still, I am at least entertained for 65 minutes.

This improvisational run-on sentence is at its best when unexpected and strange motifs crop up. This is illustrated in the scheme which begins with the statement, "At this time I will lose myself in 12 seconds and find myself again in 17 seconds." Each dancer changes the number of seconds it will take for him to be lost or found, swirling in and out of consciousness. Out of this, a line cracks the meaninglessness when one performer states, "And now I will cry," after which the men take turns standing center stage with tear-stricken faces. They play with their shadows -- one says,"he chases his shadow away" -- get tangled in Twister-esque floor conglomerations and swap clothes after stripping down to their undies and rubbing their bodies into frantic states of friction. The piece concludes with stiff-jointed movements and noises popping and fizzing from mouths, as if their puppetmen are boys playing with their Cybertron Transformers.

Improvisation is a chance game for both performer and audience. In this evening of Pisani's "Bande a part" (as I cannot assume the following night would not have caused a quantum epiphany), I could have seen less to know more.

April Biggs earned her BFA in Dance from Florida State University and is currently attaining an MFA in poetry at New School University. Since moving to NYC, she has performed and collaborated with Darrell Jones, Silver-Brown Dance, Valerie Norman and Michael Helland, among others, and is artistic director/choreographer of Biggs & Company, a collaborative dance theater project. She is also founder and director of the Biggs Publishing Collective, with whom she has read her work at Cornelia Street Café, KGB Bar and Bowery Poetry Club. April has lived in NY for eight years and currently resides in Brooklyn with her partner, Cub, and their five four-legged darlings.

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