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Flash Review, 5-11: Words matter
Sagna's bout with depression

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS -- If I thought about it, I'd be depressed. Three years after I left Paris, dancers are still talking and saying nothing, and fine dancers diluting articulate, precisely crafted movement with text that barely skims the surface. And not just any dancers. Dancers who have thrilled me with their originality, magnetism, and charisma. Thus even Carlotta Sagna, one of the most charismatic dancers around, started putting me to sleep last night when she began talking about depression, her "Ad Vitam" at the Theatre de la Bastille becoming a litany of ad nauseum cliches about the state of mind of someone who's so concerned with the way others perceive her she's withered into a state of droopy inaction. I inadvertenly tried to cheer her up by slightly moving my wrist, setting off the three belled cat collars I wear, in memory of Mesha, Hopey, and Sonia, who all passed away in the last three years, Sonia on February 24. But this quickly won me returning scowls from people three rows down, so instead I tried to hold my bells still. Holding myself still was not so easy, my squirming producing squeaky noises from my leather jacket. Perhaps in this respect Sagna succeeded, making me as hyper-conscious of the reactions of others as her character.

Walking home afterwards up the rue de la Roquette, when I got to the cemetery Pere Lachaise -- final resting place of Taglioni, Bernhardt, Piaf, Duncan, and Nikolais, among others -- I looked at the map and thought I would be a smarty-pants, taking not the safe route I'd come down on, Gambetta, but a street up the other side, which looked like a more direct route to the rue Belgrand, the place Edith Piaf (or as the remaining letters on the base of the statue that dominates it indicate, "EDIT AF."), and home. The first little street turned out to be called 'rue de la Repose,' terminating, so to speak, at a cemetery wall. I eventually found the rue de Bagnolet, which I hoped to G-d wouldn't lead me to the suburb of Bagnolet, as I'd already mistakenly almost walked clear to one suburb yesterday, taking the wrong direction on the rue de Pyrenees and not realizing this until I passed the Metro stop that's two stops from Montreuil. On my way up, I heard a hooded young man sing, "Sorry my dead friends, that I am still living." Eventually I hit a street I recognized, the rue Pelleport, and turned into it hoping it would give Paul a porte or door leading back home. It was starting to look hopeless -- the rue Pelleport is one of those gray, uninteresting, well, depressing rues. But then like a beacon there it was, the insignia of a resto reading "Cafe Bell'grand."

At the place, I stopped to ponder Piaf's statue. Arms upstretched imploringly, body wrenched, she was looking up at the heavens, not so much imploring them as signifying her pain. This is how you make art of not just glorious tragedy but simple depression; not by moping around on stage, as Sagna does, but by probing its source and then exclaiming it for all the world to see and hear and maybe even feel, to purge the pain of the sufferer and also offer some recognition to the spectators to whom it speaks.

I don't know if la vie is always belle, but those like Carlotta Sagna who wish to explore it should think grand -- especially when presuming to probe the perspective of those for whom ca vas pas.


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