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Flash Flashback, 2-15: Toujours Maguy
Around Your World with Marin
Copyright 2005, 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak
(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Archive. This Flash Review was first published on November 23, 2005. Maguy Marin's "Umwalt" will be reprised Thursday through Saturday at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, followed March 4 - 6 at the Theatre les Abbesses by "Ha! Ha!," Marin's response to the virulent reaction by some audience members to "Umwalt.")
PARIS -- For all the
shows which don't quite achieve their intentions, for all the shows
whose intentions don't quite reach the audience, for all the shows
founded on sand or grounded in mud, there will always be Maguy Marin.
Maguy Marin, creating not just dances but self-contained worlds,
dreamscapes believable even as they are fantastic, universes so
mesmerizing that even as you realize, ten minutes into her 2004
"Umwelt" (Tour of the World), which opened last night at the Theatre
de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, that the preface of performers threading
in and out of at least three rows of mirrors situated upstage in
various colorful costumes and with a cornucopia of props taken from
our daily detritus is not a preface but will constitute the whole
65-minute show, you enter into it deliciously, slowly shaking your
head all the while at the marvel Marin has managed to produce.
But before we get to
that, if you're reading this over there (in the States), you should
know that there are two things we see at dance concerts here in
Europe which I believe are much more rare there. The first is called
"cherche une place," and it appears on tiny placards held up by
forlorn-looking would-be spectators who don't have tickets and so
show up as much as an hour before curtain hoping you'll sell them
yours. In the States, you might see this before a Pina Bausch concert.
I've seen it at at least the last three dance engagements at the
Theatre de la Ville, and I'll probably see it again next week when
Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez come to town. Dance -- modern dance
-- not only sells out here, it sells out routinely. That's a function
of price, and a function of culture.
The second phenomenon
is that spectators, or some anyway, feel no compunction about walking
as early as ten minutes after the show has begun. In fact, my companion
of last night and I were joking that if those unable to get places
before the show had waited until a few minutes after it began, there
would have been a steady trickle of people leaving the theater who
would have willingly surrendered their places. (I'd say between
50 and 75 ultimately left without waiting for the finish. At the
finish, a duel between the 'boo's and 'bravo's broke out. We won.)
The two phenomena are
related. Unlike even New York, many dance shows here have a pre-show
buzz which extends beyond the dance world and even beyond the culturati
into the general air. So what you get -- my theory, anyway -- is
a certain sector of the audience who wants to get in because they've
heard it's cool, but who, unable to understand what commences without
any frame of reference, particularly when it's accompanied by astringent
music and doesn't meet a narrow definition of 'pretty dance,' can't
be bothered to stay, even for such a relatively short duration as
the one hour five minutes at which "Umwalt" clocks in.
Context is sometimes
everything. I am thinking back -- as I find myself doing more and
more these days -- to Tere O'Connor's cutting (leveling?) response
to Joan Acocella's recent New Yorker review of his work, which the
Dance Insider published as an open letter last month. O'Connor wrote
of Acocella, in part:
"Through her lack of
understanding and her inability to reach out and get information
from artists, she joins a group of critics whom I will call 'the
literalists.' These critics do not know how to read dances created
outside the restricted confines of the narrative or musical frameworks
from past centuries. What's more, they don't do the work of finding
out what is actually going on in the minds of artists or what are
the contexts in which these works are created. They havereduced
dance criticism to an explanatory, superficial, retelling of events
steering the documentation of contemporary dance into an impenetrable
forest, dark and mistaken.... Her bloated, oracular tone is classic.
It is born out of a reluctance to say: 'I don't know what this is.'"
Well, as you might have
guessed by my stalling, I am here to tell you that as regards Maguy
Marin's "Umwalt," I don't know what this is. (I can also report
that when I tried in 2001 to find out what was going on in the mind
of the artist, she stiffed me, not showing up for the interview.)
I do believe, however, that if those who walked before the
curtain fell last night had the opportunity to read a critic who
suggested, "You might not understand this, just enter into it,"
and perhaps explained how the astringent music was not just there
to annoy them but an essential element to the Marinian expedition,
more of them might have stayed.
For example, I know,
from seeing the choreographer's 1993 "Waterzooi," that each Marin dance
seems to find its own appropriate musical implements. For "Umwelt,"
this took the form of three electric guitars, layed out flat near
the lip of the stage, 'strummed' by twine unrolling from a spool
at one end of the stage to one at the other, the rope crossing over
the (apparently) miked guitars on the way. Musically (and perhaps
with some distortion added) this came out as a sort of loud, at
times cacophonous -- like many airplanes constantly revving up before
take-off, perhaps -- white noise which, once you adjusted to its
astringency, could be received as a drone, a hypnotic musical foundation
for the action.
That action spun out
upstage, the performers threading between what are most simply described
as one row of upright slats, with interstices big enough to fit
one body, behind which stands a similarly-sized row of slightly
distorting, seemingly shaking fun-house-style mirrors, in which
we can partially see the reflections of the side of the performers
not facing us, and yet another row behind these, into which the
performers really disappear.
There's also a wind
machine. Indeed, propulsion wise, when they're not facing us, the
performers' dynamic reference points -- from which they're being
blown or at which they're looking fixedly, as if to understand an
event taking place a block away -- are offstage right and left.
Because they don't emerge more than (occasionally) a few inches
beyond the front row of slats, they're mostly moving laterally between
the first two rows or pausing in the interstices to conduct their
business before retreating into the third row of mirrors. They move
in a constant cavalcade, appearing sometimes singly, sometimes in
pairs or trios.
Okay, but WHAT ARE THEY
DOING?, you ask. Well, I must confess that in terms of my notetaking
and perception, for the first half hour at least I played the literalist,
and here's some of what I saw: As with most of the Marin shows I've
seen, if she (and in this case, designer Cathy Ray) takes her costumes
from the world of the pedestrian, it's not the drably attired pedestrian
of post-mod New York (or Europe for that matter). Rather, civilians
-- whether in household or street scenes -- are usually garbed in
pastels. Where they wear skirts and blouses, they're typically of
a '50s vintage. In "Umwalt," those civilians appear holding aloft
and shaking babies so obviously fake, it's funny; eating apples
and spitting out the pits onto the terrain beyond the mirrors, towards
us; with the women naked and embracing the men as they remove their
shirts and disappear between the mirrors for the heavy stuff; with
the men pulling their pants up over naked butts; yelling; shaving;
reading the paper and drinking their coffee. When they don 'work'
outfits, they are doctors in white gowns worriedly pacing; scientists
in green overcoats tiredly removing their glasses and stroking their
hair back; pimps or drug dealers in tan trenchcoats and sunglasses
counting their money; secret agents in the same shining searchlights
over the stage; dirty old men in grey trenchcoats masturbating (this
happens once). Oh and there are soldiers, too, sometimes donning
pith helmets to drag off women discarded on the stage by their partners.
On this same theme (perhaps), there are naked unconscious (or perhaps
dead) women, held across the shoulder blades of men, both with their
backs to us. Towards the end, there are civilians or workers who
toss rubble and stones onto the stage. If there's one recurrent
visual theme, it involves the actor-dancers, usually turned slightly
and diagonally away from us, donning and removing silvery or gold
After simply scrawling
some of this down for the first half of the spectacle, I realized
I wasn't looking for the big -- choreographic and theatrical --
picture. I think it would be cheeky for me to pretend to know this
less than 24 hours after one viewing of a work that no doubt took
much longer to create. So what I'll instead qualify as my educated
'guess' would be that, in addition to her ongoing interest in creating
self-contained worlds -- which dates back some 25 years to the signature
"May B" -- here Marin reveals the rhythm in normal, mundane, dare
I say pedestrian situations.
I'd love to prattle
on significantly more, but I gotta go use the bathroom. Lights,
Click here to read a review of Maguy Marin's ""Pour ainsi
dire"; here to read about her "Points de Fuite"; and here for "Cendrillon." For some insight into Maguy Marin's
creative process from her own mouth, please click here.