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Flash Journal, 2-15: Ferme ta gueule!*
As La Sarah Spins, Lachambre Can't Stop Talking; Boivin lets Words get in the Way
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- Well campers, it finally happened: Last night at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt I saw a piece that, had the memory of Hans Van den Broeck's poignant and proficient "En Servicio" not still been fresh, might have been enough to make me think of quitting dance criticism -- and not because of the choreography or the dancing. An idiosyncratically gifted kineticist and internationally sought after pedagogue, Canadian choreographer Benoit Lachambre (New Yorkers might remember him from Stephanie Skura's company), following closely on the heels of French mover Dominique Boivin, has unfortunately become the latest dance maker infected by running mouth syndrome.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a writer. I love words. But when they're uttered on a stage, they damn well better be crafted by a professional scribe, or at least used sparely, and enunciated by trained actors, or at least dancers who know how to act. Neither is evident in Lachambre's "Lugares Comunes," performed by his company B.L.Eux. At first, I took exception to the intermittent trickle towards the exits of fellow spectators not patient enough to wait and see where Lachambre was heading in the 75-minute show. (Ultimately, about 20 left before the curtain fell, that I could observe.) Particularly galling were those who got up while the choreographer himself was essaying an eloquent solo in which breath sent arms floating and feet moving subtly as he sat in a chair and declaimed in its (breath's) honor -- in a *simple* repeated phrase. He -- and his dancers, also credited as choreographic collaborators -- had already earned my patience with a fascinating section in which the performers sort of stumbled about, in arrested fashion, with no apparent gravity centers, neutrons gamboling to Laurent Masle's sound score.
But words get in the way -- particularly if they're tritely written and and amateurishly rendered -- when they begin to obscure potentially interesting movement. I say 'potentially' because a penultimate section in which three groups of three were arrayed, respectively, on two platforms and in a cluster of three chairs was impossible to focus on because of overlapping conversations, one in cleverly enunciated French, one in monotonous English in which the performer droned on, and on, and on. This self-indulgent sequence was the point at which I started thinking of quitting, in the immediate and critically existentialist sense.
By reputation, French veteran Dominique Boivin also crafts tight movement, with the help of fluid performers, including himself. I would have loved to see more of this, uncorrupted by other elements, in my first experience of his work, last week at the Theatre National de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, but unfortunately I dropped in on Boivin just when he too had been bitten by the vocal bug.
Unlike Lachambre, with Boivin we at least knew in advance what we were getting into. "A quoi tu penses?" (What are you thinking of?) (I think) was billed as a collaboration between the choreographer and novelist Marie Nimier. So even though my Spidey sense went off when I realized the text would be based on the performers' lives, that it would be filtered through a professional writer gave me hope.
The project started off well with an elygiac, endearing duet situated on the ice skating rink and involving a girl who's infatuated with the son of the rink's cashier. He's dancing on a table top, but makes us believe he's skating on the ice in a rink. She talks, but not only is the spoken narration smoothly integrated with the dance, she often steps behind a screen to do it, we then seeing her face projected on another screen. She too, with her elastic enunciation, turns her face into a dance space. The music casts a dreamy haze over the romantic histoire -- literally, with the recurrent song "Dreaming." (The program credits neither authors nor singers.) The girl, bowing to her mother's preference -- and apparently provoked by a climactic hospital bedside kiss with the boy (someone had fallen through the ice) -- abandons the rink for dance school, a decision demonstrated in a sequence where, still atop the table, she shows off various gestures of character dance.
Things stay tight in the second of the five sections, this an audition in which the aspirant, obeying instructions from the balcony, gamely does everything she's asked to, including dancing like a fish, a bear, in the presence of Pina Bausch, a bear in the presence of Pina Bausch, and a bear and a fish. She's finally exhausted but hopeful she'll get the part; we're entertained and hopeful this particular experiment in mixing dance and text will stay at this high level.
Unfortunately, it doesn't, and it's the section featuring the choreographer himself in which Boivin the aspiring theater director starts to sabotage Boivin the accomplished dance maker. The theme is immediately apparent when he enters with a dancer about 20 years his junior and begins to recall his beginnings 20 years earlier. A generically bombastic dance track (thank you, Michel Musseau and Jean-Marc Toillon), introduced shortly after the pair enters, undercuts the impact of the movement Boivin is so adroitly executing in suave jacket and slacks. Grace returns, briefly, when the music stops and he continues dancing, but an opportunity for choreographic -- and dramatic -- impact has been squandered.
Here *I* may be undercutting the work by not so latent homo-erotic phobia and lax French, but the next section escalates the descent (so to speak). I know, two bare-chested men in tutus performing a duet in which one of them keeps tossing up his dress to flash his flabby butt should not produce a homo-erotic phobic reaction, but the fact that one of them is talking too fast and not articulating enough should not be an issue for even a French-impaired *dance* critic to have to overcome. (And even a homo-erotic phobic hetero dance critic can be swayed by extraordinary beauty and humor in an overtly homo-erotic duet, as I was by the Mark Dendy - Larry Keigwin 'Afternoon of a Faun' take which provides the coda to Dendy's opus "Dream Analysis.")
But if this fourth section is dominated by dancers running at the mouth, the final really runs it out, as an actress voices (apparently) the sentiments of a dancer who sees herself as a vessel for the dance, not expected to think, a point which we get in the first two minutes but which both continue to hammer out for what seems like another 15, until we, like the one word in the endlessly looped dance beat which accompanies the movement tour-de-force puts it, are numb.
*Shut your mouth!