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Dance Insider editor and publisher Paul Ben-Itzak, who has also written for Reuters, the New York Times, and many others and also publishes Art Investment News, is looking for work in France, where he lived and worked for 10 years. He is ready to include his magazines in any deal. Interested parties can e-mail Paul.

Peter William Holden's installation "Solenoid." Image ©Medial Mirage Matthias Moller.

Copyright 2012 Laurie Uprichard

MARSEILLE -- On my first visit to the Cité Phocéenne, to cover the Festival de Danse et des Arts Multiple this past summer, I was greeted by construction everywhere in preparation for the city's year as the European Capital of Culture 2013. Cranes towered high over the Old Port and barriers kept pedestrian traffic to a single lane on a busy Friday night. Living up to my expectations for the capitol of Provence, the days were hot under clear blue skies and the obsessive green-clad cleaning teams who are omnipresent in Paris and most other French cities seemed non-existent. But there was a good buzz in town and the architecture on the precipitous and storied Canabière, the main shopping street which descends into the port and which was once the city's main gathering place, is a fascinating mix of European and Moorish. The tour bus that wends its way from the Old Port out to the beach, along the Corniche Kennedy, past the Frioul islands and the Château d'If, then up a steep hill to Notre Dame de la Garde provides an ideal overview of the city's scenic highlights, including the fishing village Vallon des Auffes, where the chase scene in "The French Connection" was shot. The view from the hilltop is spectacular and worth the climb.

The evening I arrived, there was an art opening at the new top-floor exhibition space in the tony Galeries Lafayette department store. The exhibit, entitled Luxe, and the crowd demonstrated multiple definitions of luxury. Odile Reine-Adelaide, former dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and one-time press rep with Ellen Jacobs Associates, is now the program coordinator at the festival and knew everyone. It was a good start.

Janet Novas in her "Cara Pintada." Photo ©Juan Adrio.

From the Galeries Lafayette, we headed to the recently opened KLAP -- Maison pour la danse (developed by Marseille-based choreographer Michel Kelemenis) to see "Cara Pintada," a solo created and performed by Madrid-based Janet Novas. The work begins slowly in near darkness in the large and airy space. Novas stands and watches the audience, her long red dress contrasting with her jet black hair, before taking several empty picture frames and hanging them on the upstage wall. Changing into white pants and a red halter, she turns the dress into a scenic element, draping it over the rungs of a ladder upstage right. After a long series of rolling and unfolding from her knees, she eventually rises, balancing on the fronts of her feet. She walks downstage, laughing loudly with no joy. Toward the end of the work, she sits on a stool in a pool of light and applies gold glitter to her face, now representing the "cara pintada," or painted face, of the title. Miming holding a gun, Novas fires directly at the audience and then points the weapon at the ceiling. Finally she carries a lamp upstage and lays it down on the floor before unplugging it. These sections were accompanied by a plaintive guitar score -- not flamenco but clearly from the same sort of soul. There was a striking sense of design in this somewhat puzzling, but intriguing, performative work. However, in the middle of the piece, there is a section that seems to have migrated from another dance. Janis Joplin's "Try a Little Tenderness" blares loudly as Novas runs madly around the stage, kind of lip syncing, gyrating, and executing little scoot steps. At the end, you are left with questions about this character and her world; I wondered how the two were related. I would like to know more.

Peeping Tom in "A Louer." Photo ©Herman Sorgeloos.

Peeping Tom's new work, "A Louer," (for rent) was presented in the 1,000-seat Salle Villier, a gymnasium turned into a theater. Having been invited several times to the festival, this Brussels-based dance-theater ensemble, directed by Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier, has developed a loyal audience. The place was packed for this piece, the latest in a series of domestic dance-dramas the company has produced. On the stage are deployed a couch, chairs, a piano, a rotary dial phone, fake flowers and a lamp, most of these furnishings covered in white sheets. The floor is patterned in black and white squares and there are two uncovered red chairs. The setting evokes a house from the late 19th century, abandoned due to a move or perhaps a summer holiday. The characters who visit this house, and whom we come to know and love, include a neurotic woman with very flat hair wearing black heels and pearls who may be the one trying to rent the house; an opera singer gone a bit to seed; an Asian butler whose body seems to twitch and jerk as if on marionette strings; two other extraordinary dancers; and two older men, one charming but pompous (Simon Versnel), the other detached and academic. A cast of local performers augments the cast, sometimes crawling on all fours like a wild pack of dogs, at other times becoming a tourist group viewing the house. Over the next hour, these performers enact bizarre and absurd scenes. Whether they are singing, screaming, berating or applauding each other, sinking literally into chairs, playing piano, or dancing in slithery contortions, the situation is always on the edge of getting completely out of control. It's absolutely delightful, as is the amazing cast; in addition to Versnel, Jos Baker, Leo De Beul, Eurudike De Beul, Marie Gyselbrecht, Hun-Mok Jung, and SeolJin Kim.

In addition to these two live performances, I visited two installations by Peter William Holden, AutoGene and SoleNoid, and another by Richard Baquié Tot ou Tard (Sooner or Later).

AutoGene was an ingeniously programmed display of black umbrellas, mounted on a wall at the Salle Vallier, that snapped open or closed somewhat in time to a recording of Gene Kelly "Singin' in the Rain." SoleNoid, installed in the Marseille Library, involved a circular platform on which eight tap shoes, hooked to a motorized metal arm that allowed them to move (tap), sat on eight smaller circles. The simple robotic structures to which the shoes were attached utilized pneumatic actuators and solenoid valves. Holden, a British artist, says that he grew up with the surrealism and nonsense of Dali, the dynamism and movement of Tinguely, the banal objects of Duchamp, and the repetitions of Warhol, and that he likes to push these 20th century cultural elements in his work. Thanks to YouTube, you can see these installations here and here.

Richard Baquié's installation "Tot ou Tard." Photo ©courtesy Arlogos.

Tot ou Tard (Sooner or Later), a work staged only once before, in 1994, was a collaboration between visual artist Richard Baquié, writer Emmanuel Loi, and composer Jean-Marc Montera. The performance took place inside a cracked glass cube and it was this that was remounted for the exhibition in the Palais de la Bourse (home of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Marseille). Unfortunately, this work cannot be found on YouTube.

Overall, it was a great pleasure to visit Marseille. Before heading back to Paris, Hind Abou Hassan (an intern at Dublin Dance Festival in 2011, when I directed it, now getting her master's in Arts Administration) gave us a quick tour of Aix-en-Provence, Marseille's neighbor 30 minutes away, which I had last visited in 2002. In the past decade, the Aix national choreographic center led by Angelin Preljocaj has built the Pavillion Noir, a handsome black theater which presents its own full season of guest programming as well as the work of Preljocaj, next to the imposing Théatre de l'Archeveque, with its medieval arches and 17th century wings. A number of pedestrian shopping streets have also given the town a more modern air. I admit to missing Aix's old sleepiness; still there are beautiful squares and numerous churches to explore in town, as well as its famous fountains, and the Provencal countryside is among the most lush and fragrant in all of France, even if the lavender isn't in bloom.

Pour lire notre article sur l'exposition "Albert Camus, l'étranger qui nous ressemble" -- avec le scénario integral de l'exposition programmé et par la suite abandoné par Marseille-Provence capitale européenne de la culture, cliquez ici.

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