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Flash Review, 8-8: Pre-mortems
Devastating Deterioration from Senatore

Ambra Senatore's "A Posto (En Place)." Photo copyright Viola Berlanda and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2013 Philip W. Sandstrom

PARIS -- The simplicity of the opening was disarming and revealed my willingness to assume that three beautiful women moving in a vacuous manner on stage pre-saged a slow evening. Was I ever wrong. In an almost casual presentation, Ambra Senatore's "A Posto (En Place)," seen April 2 at the Theatre des Abbesses of the Theatre de la Ville, unfolded in flashback, or maybe it was in reverse. It started with the silly and playfull staging of Caterino Basso, Claudia Catarzi, and Senatore positioned pensively like fashion models on an all-white stage with a black surround, posing in a series of vignettes separated by black-outs, before building to a macabre finale of blood and destruction.

Senatore slowly revealed the relationships between the trio of women. As their interactions became more complex, with fantasy stories of murder, love, and companionship, the movement patterns, which were interspaced between the theater-story moments, became more intertwined and elaborate. I marveled at the precision of the dancers.

The choreography looked familiar, like a gentle cross between the soft lines of Tricia Brown, the exactness of Lucinda Childs, and the reckless abandon of Twyla Tharp. Yet the combination remained unique because Senatore chose the right cast to execute this sort of movement; the dancers had it down. Their technique was a perfect blend of the three styles, presented with astonishing agility complemented by natural talent, allowing the theatrical elements of the work to spring forth from the movement and making their characters believable. They made the dance; they made the evening.

The theater in the dance was reminiscent of Yvonne Rainer, with a wry sense of humor that enabled Senatore to pause and reflect and allow us to drink in the occasional sight gag, as when a splotch of dark red wine metamorphosed into a piece of plastic to be flung across the stage. The fun at times bordered on the irreverent, with a long narrow thermos bottle used in an obvious phallic gesture, and the sensual, with the mouth-to-mouth sharing of a giant ripe strawberry that left its running juices on both of the performers' chins.

Picnic scenes with wine, strawberries, and cakes defined the moments of female bonding and gave us a sense that these women had known each other for a lifetime. It was all so familial that the occasional, yet repeated, feint of a cake knife across a neck seemed in gest even though it projected a certain sense of menace. It was in the repetition of scenes or parts of scenes where wine, cake, and knives interacted that we got a hint that something unseemly was going to happen.

Ambra Senatore's "A Posto (En Place)." Photo copyright Viola Berlanda and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

The theatrical scenes were interspersed with the dance sections for no apparent reason but that did not matter; I was intrigued and locked into this trio. I was always looking forward to the next scene, the next dance, or the next piece of schtick. Every moment seemed to hang on a morsel of the previous scene as we slowly pieced together the drama of the demise of the trio.

In the final scene, staged on the floor close to the audience, the terminal picnic became the finale of the trio. They slowly dissolved before our eyes, dying from gentle knife slashes that culminated in a bloody finish. But it did not stop there. The women appeared to decompose in front of our eyes, their faces whitening then darkening as decomposition set in and body parts began to separate from their corpses. I am not sure how they did it -- perhaps through a mixture of layered make-up, e.g. beige over white over black, and well-concealed limb props -- but it was quite eerie in its realistic appearance. (This scene so upset some audience members that they left the theater before the conclusion of the dissolution.) By repeating many of the violent interactions between the trio from the earlier parts of the dance in this final section, Senatore provided us with the epiphany we needed to tie it all together. "A Posto" was a post-mortem. The ethereal dancing that preceded the demise could now be understood as otherworldly, the afterlife of these Terpsichores.

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