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Ownership of The Arts Voyager & Dance Insider, as well as our sister publication Art Investment News, is available FREE to a new owner who will keep the present editor on staff part-time and help him get a carte de sejour to return to France, plus provide health insurance in France. For details please contact editor & publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.

Ballet Preljocaj in Angelin Preljocaj's "Ce que j'appelle l'oubli." Photo copyright JC Carbonne.

Copyright 2013 Pauline Testut
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

Angelin Preljocaj, "Ce que j'appelle l'oubli." Ballet Preljocaj, February 23 - March 5, Théâtre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt

PARIS -- Based on a true crime story at the same time sordid and extra-ordinary (in the literal sense of the term), Angelin Preljocaj's latest work surprises first of all by its point of view, delivered by the young actor Laurent Cazenave, a narrator whose voice is at the same time powerful and monotonous, and which accompanies the movement of the dancers practically without interruption, distilling progressively a growing malaise, shock, and finally the sadness of the magnificent and major text taken from Laurent Mauvinier's book.

The scenario is as follows: A 'marginal' enters a super-market, takes a beer from a shelf and drinks it immediately. Spotted, then sequestered by security guards, he ends up being beaten to death.

If the physical action is measured, it's nonetheless efficient, distilled at times to the simplest expression of feeling. Preljocaj continues to explorer "dance-literature" (following his 1996 "L'Amour," based on Pascal Quignard's book, and the the 2009 "La Funambule," based on the Jean Genet work), relying above all on the text and economizing the evolutions of his dancers, all male here, to the point of achieving this épure which will reveal the violence and the chaos, as during an attempt at scientific analysis. One thinks of the scene of encirclement of the future victim by his predators, who snap their fingers in an anxious rhythm in a morbid echo of musical comedies, and signals that he's about to be put to death. These simple gestures from normal everyday life accentuate the incredulity of the spectator, compelled as much by the performance as by the facts themselves. What?! Someone could be killed by getting beat up in a supermarket, in 2009, with simple blows? Because what is evoked here is indeed the incomprehensible brutality of the gesture and the power of human violence, all the more unacceptable when it takes place not in the expected, traditional milieus -- a battlefield or a night-time mugging -- but in a supermarket, the setting par excellence of routine daily life, where this marginal individual will be coldly annihilated.

The first part of the piece relies on a chronological evolution of the facts, leading to the final drama. Events unfold methodically, chronologically, and are served by a decor which transforms the text with force: We're between the shelves of the palettes in the back of the supermarket, on a path towards a fatal end for the protagonist without name, a victim who begins to swirl, his horizontal and effaced body perpetually opposed to the verticality of his attackers, their aggressiveness almost sexual. Questions of virility, the power of group-think and of mob mentality, dot the text, enacted by suits and ties which evaporate, the torsos of the dancers, the circular and repetitive movements, repeating the infernal rounds of domination.

The stupor of death, the inevitable end which leaves the spectator incredulous through to the finish, recedes before the 'after,' that is to say the decor of prison cells, of civilization and of the law which resumes its rightful place. Who are these exceptional executioners? The floor is ceded to the victim's brother, while the group performs gestures, enveloped in shrouds or enacting religious figures. But no explanation will be forthcoming.

Shocking, simple, but profound: Preljocaj's latest work expands his exploration of text in movement and proves once more that dance and theater can be inspired by horror to achieve the sublime.

Compagnie les Cambrioleurs in Julie Berès's "Lendemains de fete" (literally, The day after the party). Photo copyright Philippe Delacroix.

The Compagnie les Cambrioleurs in Julie Berès, "Lendemains de fête." February 25 - March 13 at the théâtre des Abbesses

Julie Berès, originally from South Africa, which accords a particular importance to the elderly, finds in the perpetual theme of aging an eternally fresh topic. She utilizes the subject like a documentary; she had to undertake a veritable study (immersion in a retirement home, and posing questions about the functioning of the subconscious) to find this strange object, somewhere between theater, concert, and spectacle, but with a certain fluidity whose flow floods out without interruption.

Berès uses song, text, and dance to recount the disjointed story of a man suffering from Alzheimer's, who forgets everything, in a mixture of varied images which super-impose memories, carnal embraces and feelings and contrasts the ages of life in a sort of double vision. It's thusly that Jacques, a music lover in his 70s, tries to live his life with his companion Marie, declining little by little, surrounded by his memories and encircled by a decor which becomes disjointed, metamorphosizing to admit folly, embodied by grotesque personages. The direction is inventive, as if designed by a handyman, the stage space multiplied in its structure and its temporality.

Through the text, sanity glides between moments of derive and the beauty of choral chants and monologues, overlaid by philosophic texts by Jankélévitch and Lacan, giving to the ensemble a grandiloquent and intellectual dimension, which defuses the dramatic tension of undiluted feeling. The eccentricity of the figures of 'old people' also imbues the subject with a welcome poetry.

The couple of moving and stunning 70-something actors, Evelyne Didi and Christian Bouillette, entwine, kiss, and make love on stage, while their alter-egos (incarnated by Julie Pilod, Matthieu Gary, and Vasil Tasevski), cross each other and traverse the stage, in so many flashbacks, true or false, of all the meaningful moments of a life, of a love story, of a day in the past.

The final bouquet involves a master show of lacher-prise -- release and hold -- where bodies jump and fly, as do objects, all seeming to explode, and where autumn leaves and clothing dot the stage as it devolves into chaos. It's an ironic tribute to life and death, the hope that happiness will persist despite it all. One leaves this violent and sensitive show feeling used up and wiser, witness of a life and its wanderings, of a universality so strongly evident that it touches us at the most profound level.

The acting company of the Théâtre de la Ville in Roger Vitrac's "Victor, ou, les enfants au pouvoir." Photo copyright Jean-Louis Fernandez.

The acting company of the Théâtre de la ville in Roger Vitrac's "Victor ou les enfants au pouvoir" (Victor, or children in power). Directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, Théâtre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, March 6-24

If the piece Roger Vitrac created in 1928 with Antonin Artaud for the Theater Alfred Jarry is less shocking than it was at its premiere, the splendid direction of Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, artistic director of the Theatre de la Ville, renews the work, bestowing it with a magisterial contemporary shine.

The story mixes simplicity and supposed perversion: that of fickle and hypocritical adults who get drunk imbibing whatever's around, and that of a child who loudly says what he thinks (too often). The child Victor (Thomas Durand, magnificently full of juvenile impertinence), spies on family figures, apes them, fools his world, and plays the adults as if they're children, as witnessed by the figure of the innocent grand-daughter of the neighbors, like Victor a witness to the coucheries of the adults.

The linear story follows the unfolding of a family party: The birthday of Victor, the gifted child, replete with its rituals like the birthday cake, regularly interrupted with impromptu visits, peals of laughter, and screams of rage. Everything happens in a crescendo. The stage is set up like the inside of a well-to-do bourgeoisie home, with a water basin just outside the house surrounded by dead leaves, a romantic and desperate environment which will be the setting for the physical expansion of certain characters, a sort of decompression chamber. Equally present is a vegetal sculpture which accompanies the action, effacing itself from or imposing itself on the stage, in the background, a disturbing branchage of the subconscious and the rotting, which, depending on the tension present on the stage, either expands or contracts. This extremely graphic decor, to which is added the inevitable doors and other symbols of the subconscious, bathes in a funereal light. Convention, expected to reign supreme, is quickly besieged, first with the malaise in the dialogue, later through acts: broken vases, disordered gestures and divisive words. The first object broken is a precious vase, by Victor, who then accuses the maid, who with the daughter is the only normal character, both outsiders who observe or submit.

The scale of neuroses develops slowly, giving to each character his or her moment, in particular the personage of the crazy neighbor (the obnoxious and genial Hugues Quester), whose involuntary frankness gooses the chaos and who, by his suicide, accelerates the tragic end for Victor -- this diabolically intelligent child, adored by his parents, who discover over time his rebellious nature and see their bourgeoisie facade crumple. The mother, Elodie Bouchez, approaches little by little hysteria and rupture until the final, devastating scene. The decor is rattled, the water basin spilled over by the gifted child, then the new Ophelia drowned (or nearly), and the apparition of the seductive figure of Madame Ida Mortemart (Laurence Roy), grotesque and dangerous, upends the situation, physically incarnating indecency and rudeness, the victim of incessant farting.

Surrealism in the decor and in words, shattering of the bourgeoisie order, bursts of laughter and verbal delusions: Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota splendidly serves a text that does not seem to have aged, and which preserves all the charm of scandal.

Pauline Testut is the Arts Voyager & Dance Insider's Paris correspondent. A graduate of the School of the Louvre, passionate about theater, dance, and graphism, she works in the art market (specializing in Comics and Graphic Arts), and has edited articles for Art Press. She's also a photographer and freelance illustrator.

The acting company of the Théâtre de la Ville in Roger Vitrac's "Victor, ou, les enfants au pouvoir." Photo copyright Jean-Louis Fernandez.

Flash Sidebar, 4-23: 'Victor' in his time
How the critics responded to Vitrac... and how Artaud responded to them

Among the surrealists, none may have been as aggressively revolutionary as Antonin Artaud, and none of his projects may have exemplified this more than Artaud and Roger Vitrac's Alfred Jarry Theatre. "Despite only eight performances by the Jarry Theatre during the years 1927-1929," writes Victor Corti in his introduction to Volume 2 of the Collected Works of Antonin Artaud (Gallimard, Paris, 1961 and Calder & Boyars, London, 1971), "he succeeded in turning theater upside down, and the effects of this upheaval have not ceased to be felt since." The Jarry's goal, Artaud promised, was nothing less than "to contribute to the downfall of theatre as it exists in France today by specifically theatrical means, dragging all the literary and artistic ideas down with its destruction, along with the psychological conventions, all the plastic artificiality, etc., on which this theatre was built, by reconciling the idea of theatre, at least provisionally, with whatever is most feverish in life today." (Ibid.) The Jarry's final production was Vitrac's "Victor, or the children in power," staged at the Comedie des Champs-Elysees December 24 and 29, 1928 and January 5, 1929 (there was no opportunity for a run-through), and described by Artaud as "a middle-class play in three acts..., lyrical at times, ironic, even outspoken at others, [and] aimed at the middle-class family unit. It featured adultery, incest, scatology, anger, Surrealist poetry, patriotism, madness, shame and death."

Critical reaction was alternately laudatory and virulent and, to Artaud, so entertaining that he composed a skit made up entirely of actual quotes from reviews published in "The Argus," including the following:

Paul Reboux: The only things that appeared natural to me in this preposterous work were the posterior sounds the author made the heroine utter each time she was in the grip of emotion. I can assure you the confusion which seems to reign in M. Roger Vitrac's mind has something contagious about it.

Jean Cassou: No, Victor is not a poet because he starts delivering conventionalities from time to time but... because he represents a new view of the world, an indignant, disruptive view, because he deploys a secret, corrosive energy which invests real life with a second meaning and discloses bizarre, shocking, stirring and remarkable relationships.

-- Paul Ben-Itzak

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