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Flash Review, 4-26: When You Comin'
Back, Billy Batson?
Superduped by "Shazam!" at BAM
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider
We make love through technology,
courting each other on e-mail. We break up through technology, arguing through
e-mail. We are fast losing the ability to communicate with any sort of dexterity
or rapport or skill or facility with our bodies. So when I see a work like Philippe
Decoufle's "Shazam," in which performers canonically insist that they prefer to
communicate with their bodies even while their bodies are overwhelmed by distanced,
filmed bodies and lights and technology and cartoons, I have to state, categorically,
notwithstanding the Brooklyn Academy of Music audience's hurrahs and the thumbs
up from audient Moses Pendleton at last night's opening, that this is an Emperor
with lots of clothes but very little body, if body is a synonym for dance.
I cried, in fact, when I realized
that Decoufle has been seduced by, and apparently has succeeded in seducing much
of the public with (if one is to believe France Moves director Yorgos Loukos's
claim that Decouffle is "by far the most important artist in France, the U.S.,
Brazil...'") glam. Glam film. Glam lighting. Glam mirrors. Glam animation. Yes,
Dance Insiders, this was one of those dances where I had to ask myself, "How would
this look stripped down, sans glorious rocking music (and it did rock), and sexy
films of dancers (and the films were riveting) and pared to just the dance, and
the dancers. The answer -- and thanks to my colleague Diane Vivona for educating
me to this Arlene Croce term -- is that I am left with few after-images of the
Exceptions: Christophe Salengro and
Alexandra Naudet. After Salengro becomes blue-jacketed, naked below the waist
man number umpteen to insist that he's embarrassed to talk and would rather express
himself with his body, he talks LIGHT (previous speakers have talked music and
body), as danced by Naudet in a crystalline white hoop skirt, given original,
exact musicalization by the group La Trabant, with lead composer Sebastien Libolt.
In the dryest French manner, he sings the praise of blue light, and red light
illumines Naudet and the stage; white light, and red light suffuses all; dimmers,
as he tweaks her breasts -- again, to a romp of a breast/dimmer tweaking sound
effect by La Trabant -- and she his groin. There's even a blackout, from which
he emerges with a flashlight.
Also charming, I have to admit, is
the film which concludes the evening. We get the whole cast, done up, as is the
film imagined, in a Rene Clair/Fernand Leger manner, i.e. "Entre Chat"/"Ballet
Mecanique," right down to the white face make-up, winks, and capped one-piece
bathing suits. (And indeed, these two films are evoked earlier in the evening,
quite successfully, in frames within frames, boxes within boxes: the proscenium,
a screen, a frame in the movie on the screen, and a frame within that, encasing
a large eye.) Lots of pyramids here and gravity defining and surmounting acts,
achieved, a Momix veteran with an eye for such things informed me later, by filming
the dancers from above when they're actually on the ground, with a black background.
That it's a trick doesn't really take away from the achievement, which is as much
in the wry delivery as in the illusion of feets a-feat.
So: An interesting film, suitable
for the BAM cinematheque -- absolutely. Riveting film? Okay, sure. But, stripped
of all effects, original dance? Hardly. The most popular in France? Don't believe
the hype, mon amis. Bring on Mlle Marin and M. Preljocaj!
P.S. After-thought one: In her
review of fellow France Moves attraction Boris Charmatz yesterday, my colleague
Sandra Aberkalns wrote, "the contact work between the dancers was what was in
vogue here in the U.S. 20 to 30 years ago (i.e. been there, done that)." In a
program statement, Decoufle talks about coming to the U.S. years ago and studying
with Alwin Nikolais and Merce Cunningham. Huh. Well, regarding any Cunningham
pretensions -- er, well, that's just what they are, nothing more. Regarding Nikolais
-- see Sandra's comment! Nikolais was doing some of the imagistic/illusionary
things Decoufle does much more than thirty years ago. This is what we worse fear
when we go to see a European post-modern dance company, that they will be presenting
as novel things that were new to New York thirty years ago.
P.P.S. After-thought two: During
the concert, one of the reasons I cried is I thought of what might have been.
Why couldn't Mr. Loukos have brought Lynda
Gaudreau, whose concert seen by moi in Paris last fall more than echoed post-modern
roots? Gaudreau's very purity was a tonic I yearned for last night. Films were
utilized there too, but to a more dancey end: A Jonathan Burrows short that centers
on the knitting movement of hands; another that focuses on the more-than-pedestrian
human kinetics in a girl dribbling a basketball, and two men trying to take it
away from her; a run across a field in which two younger men outdistance a much
older man; a row of four dancers chain-reacting cleanly to each other; Benoit
Lachambre taking locomotion to the hyper-max. True, Gaudreau is from Montreal,
so the France Moves umbrella would have to extend to all things Francophone. But
if she's good enough for the major Paris theater des Abbesses, she should be good
enough for the increasingly glammy BAM.
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