Flash Flashback 2, 4-27: Le text blanc
Ea Sola: Another dance, another lecture
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2009, 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak
(This story was first published on ExploreDance.Com.)
PARIS -- About a dozen shows ago (on this one-month Paris sojourn), my open-minded editor indulged me and let me slip a theater show in amongst the dance reviews he'd commissioned. That was before he realized that I didn't need to go to a theater piece to see a performer talk, that, indeed, there was plenty of talking ahead of me, him, and you, dear reader, in some of the dance works I was to see. Up until June 9, and the opening of Ea Sola's "Le Corps Blanc" at the Theatre des Abbesses in Montmartre, the most egregious example was Meg Stuart's "Do animals cry?" No animal tears there, just a lot of human vocal dribbling, much of it gibberish to the French audience as, after some 15 years abroad, it didn't occur to the American Stuart to offer a translation of the mundane English text in her tortuously two-hour (one too many) long intermission-less work. But Ea Sola went Stuart one further, starting with an interesting text -- 16th-century iconic French poet Etienne de La Boetie's "Discourse of voluntary solitude" -- and effectively rendering it mundane with a flat, initially whispered and thus inaudible locution by not just dancers trying to be actors but apparently untrained civilians trying to be performers.
At this point -- perhaps having had your fill of a *dance* critic blathering about the *words* in a dance show -- you're telling me, "Well, put plugs in your ears and watch the dance." This, also, was no easy task for this particular performance, as -- perhaps in an attempted neat tandem with the rotely recited words -- Sola had placed her (dance) performers behind a scrim so gauzy it was hard to see anything. In other words, here we had not only a choreographer who had botched the non-dance part of her performance but a dance-maker who'd effectively thrown mud over her own dance.
As I'm putatively a dance critic, I'll stop talking about the talk now and talk about what went wrong with the dance part of the dance show, specifically in the use of the scrim. Or more exactly, the scrim and its lighting. What Sola appeared to be attempting here was some kind of shadow play, and as often happens when I see a worse example, I can't help but think of a best example to signal what went wrong. This would be Moses Pendleton, especially in a work called "E.T.," which spoofs that movie with hand and leg play, the limbs forming creatures. Sola's intentions may not have been so light-hearted, but her use of lighting to create the shadow play was definitely lightweight in its lack of sophistication.
When she finally lifted the scrim, if the bodies became clearly defined, the dance became incoherent. One of the three dancers did a sort of possessed Chippendale number, grabbing at his underwear in a sort of manic attempt at titillation, another seemed to be mad about something. She was certainly fierce -- but to what end?
"Le Corps Blanc" literally means "The White Body," but I can't help seeing 'blanc' as 'blank' and wondering if maybe the reason so many choreographers continue to burden their dance works with either poorly written or poorly delivered words is that they're running out ideas for the body. Lacking a varied physical palette of their own, they fall back on words which, of course, often just get in the way, especially when poorly delivered.