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Jonathan Pranlas and Sonia Darbois in Mathilde Monnier and Jean-François Duroure's 1984 "Pudique Acide." Marc Coudrais photo courtesy Centre Chorégraphique National de Montpellier.

Copyright 2011 Laurie Uprichard

PARIS -- "Pudique Acide" and "Extasis" were created by Mathilde Monnier and Jean-François Duroure in the 1980s, the former piece in 1984 while the pair was on a fellowship to study at the Cunningham Studio and the latter a year later in France. The two had been working with Viola Farber, an erstwhile Cunningham dancer at the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine in Angers, just prior to arriving in New York. The two pieces were revived for the Montpellier Dance Festival last summer and have been touring in France as well as in other European countries and Brazil; I caught them October 25 at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale as part of the Festival d'Automne. The program is reprised tonight at the Maillon in Strasbourg and November 29 at the Scene des Vosges in Epinal, France.

Wearing identical red and black plaid kilts with their hair standing up in improbable mohawks, the two dancers (now Sonia Darbois and Jonathan Pranlas) resemble a kind of co-dependent, slightly injured couple. To Kurt Weill songs, in the original German, they move in jumpy minimal patterns (think hyper-Lucinda Childs), often in unison but sometimes in canon as they head to different parts of the stage. Always a bit off-center and off balance, Darbois and Pranlas look like twins, even when they remove their black sweaters to reveal white tank tops and black suspenders. They seem to strive for an equality of relationship, even though there is an underlying sense of competition. Toward the end of the 23-minute work, they take off their kilts and place them side by side downstage as a remnant/reminder of where they began, before once again launching into energetic step-hop-turns.

In contrast with "Pudique Acide," "Extasis" seems to conclude with Pranlis winning. Starting out once more costumed identically and cross-gendered (this time in huge tutus topped by beige coats with black blazers underneath), the pair move together in head-spiraling turns. Five large Kleig-like lights on tripods ranging from three to 15 feet high dot the stage and Bernard Herrmann's film score underlines the false nature of this environment. The couple strikes poses, as if for publicity shots, but the game deteriorates. Midway through he smears red lipstick over his mouth, turning into a clown. She takes her jacket off, wearing a veil over her head, and the wedding ends badly as Pranlis carries her limp figure off to dump on the stage floor.

Seeing these works again after nearly 25 years (they were presented at Dance Theater Workshop in 1987; I was lucky to be working there at that incredible time) was a real joy. Monnier's creative work has continued to the present and she directs Montpellier's National Choreographic Center, one of 21 such centers spread around the country. Duroure joined Pina Bausch's company for a while and is now teaching in Strasbourg. Monnier's work has always been intelligent and has explored a wide variation of approaches, aesthetics and collaborators. But these two simple dances, made when the artists were only in their 20s, exhibited a boundless, joyful energy in combination with a rigorous attention to structure. Their androgynous costuming and equal strength as performers remind us that gender equality was no stranger to modern dance of that era.

There seems to be a trend of revivals. I've seen four this fall: In addition to this program, John Kelly's "Find My Way Home," David Gordon's "Dancing Henry V," and Ping Chong's "Angels of Swedenborg." And last spring offered Pierre Droulers's "De l'air et du vent." Perhaps having a quarter century between then and now (Gordon's show premiered more recently but the others were all created in the mid-80s or early 90s) makes us nostalgic or, alternately, there is now simply enough of a body of contemporary performance work that it makes sense that we want to see some of it again. Though each revival may not fully succeed, I'm enjoying the opportunity to re-visit the work. And, through the magic of YouTube, you can also see bits of the originals, which I highly recommend in the case of Monnier and Duroure.


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