Photo © 2009. Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

looking at the world and challenging our assumptions, definitions and creation of it through the lense of the body, movement, the arts and science.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reflections on Performance: Aurélian Bory's "Sans Objet," presented by Théâtre de la Ville at Les Abbesses, Paris - March 6, 2010

Click here to see footage from "Sans objet."

It doesn't seem far-fetched to imagine that the inspiration for Aurélian Bory's "Sans objet", performed by Compagnie 111 in Paris on Théâtre de la Ville's program at Les Abbesses last night, had something to do with their being situated in the heart of one of France's industrial centers for aviation and car manufacturing. I say this because the principal player in this full length trio is an enormous robot, which I presume initially functioned in the assembly line of a car manufacturing facility in the region.

Removed from this context and placed on a platform in a theatre with two men in black suits, the robot is without the objects it was created to manipulate (massive sheets of heavy metal come to mind). Detached in this way from its intended function, one could also say that it is without purpose as well. But one could not say that it is without personality. Or power.

In the beginning, the lights reveal (and create the exquisite illusion of) an immense shining sculpture. It's lines are fluid curves and arcs, in the way that fabric falls. And as it slowly moves, gracefully flowing and transforming from one shape to another like an enormous giant made of liquid mercury, there is a harsh and heavy sound that pops unexpectedly. And the lights play in almost every possible way with this moving form, revealing its beauty and grace through the gradations of shadow and color and light.

The revelation that what we are looking at is in fact an enormous black plastic material (that reminds me strongly of garbage can liners) draped over a giant machine is a shock that is delivered slowly. How could anyone see such beauty in a black plastic coated form? And how could we have overlooked for so long the beauty of how the light plays on its mundane-seeming surface?

Even when bared, the lighting still angles in on the thing in such a way that it is not revealed as a hideous or heartless mechanism at all, but rather as a creature of infinite sculptural beauty and possibility. It is only when one of the performers puts his head into the "head" or "mouth" or "hand" of the thing, and is manipulated through the surrounding space, that we might realize that this robot is essentially one great appendage. And the machine has found an object! Which doesn't deny the fact that great care, seeming almost like tenderness, is given to the manipulation of this new found object.

And then the two performers ride on the thing. A flying dragon is called to mind, or a slow and heavy circus ride. But it is not in service to these humans in any way -- they must adjust and adapt to it. And they do so with a simplicity and functionality that demands what seems to be inhuman and impossible strength. Riding a slow and giant arc through the air, they begin in one position (say, for example, the shape of a "Y," with two arms and the top of the head connecting to the robot's arm and the body creating the base of a "Y") and maintain it without the slightest visible shift as they float sideways, rotate, and transition upside down on the other side.

I wonder what it's name is. I can't imagine the creators and performers, nor its pilot, having spent so much time working so intimately with it that they haven't given it a name. Well, "It" begins to manipulate the planks that make its platform. As one of the men walks across, the robot shifts and slides the planks out from under his feet, and the humor is very welcome. As it is welcome in the section where the robot manipulates a large, shallow box in which the two men keep adjusting themselves to the changing gravity of the situation.

By the end the men have covered their heads in black plastic, and one of them pulls out another huge sheet of this black plastic, which is pulled across the entire stage like a curtain, hiding the machine and the men. And the light shining on it now, as it is thumped and banged on from behind, creates moving waves of amber light in the blackness of deep space. And the strikes come faster and smaller and more densely packed, like a meteor shower. And the light dances frantically in space. Not because the light is moving frantically, but because the surface it falls upon is. The light is, in fact, steady. And the music, everywhere enhancing the textures of the work, here gives it a quality of desperation and lawlessness that is frightening. And when light shines from behind it, hundreds of holes are revealed, like stars in the night sky.

And two lines are sliced vertically, and the two men walk through with their heads still covered in black -- and against the blackness of the space they seem headless. And they stand one on each side of the rectangular hole that has been formed, doorway-like, between those two vertical lines, like ancient hybrid creatures guarding an Egyptian tomb. And as the piece finishes, for me, it seems very much like a black hole in space, sucking in all.

I would like to reprint here the notes on the entire team of artists, because clearly the vision of this work was realized through their work together:

Conception, script and direction - Aurélion Bory
Music composition - Joan Cambon
Artistic Advisor - Pierre Rigal
Lighting - Arno Veyrat
Pilot and programmer for the robot - Tristan Baudoin
Scenery - Pierre Dequivre
Sound - Stéphane Ley
Costumes - Sylvie Marcucci
Prop Monitor - Fréderic Stoll
Patina/Sheen - Isadora de Ratuld
Masks - Guillermo Fernandez
Performed by Olivier Alenda, Olivier Boyer


©Ann Moradian, 2010.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reflections on Performance: Thierry de Mey at the Maison de la Musique, Nanterre, France - January 30, 2010

Click here to see footage of de Mey's "Table Music" for ARTE television.

I went to see the Belgian artist Thierry de Mey's music, movement and film last night at Nanterre's Maison de la Musique just outside of Paris. It is the first time I have seen his work.

The first piece was a dance film about 5 minutes long (from the early 80s) that was listed by the name "Dom svobode." A group of about 8 dancers connected by rope harnesses were dancing horizontally against what looks like the side of a cliff. The dancers don't show the effort that must be involved, but you still see the effect on the body of this shift in its relationship with gravity. It seems appropriate that Magritte's bowler hats stayed calmly on the men's heads even at a 90° angle. With such an obvious reference to Magritte's painting and in a work that is so suspended and air-dwelt, one would have thought we would see more sky and air. But the artists chose to accent the rock. We see gravel and dirt falling away under the dancers' feet, and hear it in the soundscape, which makes us feel it even more viscerally. This use of sound as music, or the music of sound, is satisfying, and strongly enhances the experience, transferring their vibrations into our own bodies. The film seemed to cut off abruptly at the end, and left me hanging, suspended, horizontally, a little too far off the ground. It was an interesting glance into a world not my own.

I believe that de Mey said, in his talk after the program, that the second piece, "Tippeke" was also from the 80s. It seems as if it were the result of an intimate collaboration between de Mey and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. I have only seen some of her group work for the stage and while I was not surprised by the power in her movement, I was not expecting the delicacy and fineness of expressive articulation she so fully embodied. The beauty of the madness of the body that does not fit together anymore with itself or with its mind, the body that cannot bear itself. It touches us, uncomfortably in all its sensuality, and I felt pity for her. Her story, Tippeke's story, was a simple one, of Tippeke moving through a beautiful autmn or winter wood, not wanting to go home, of the dog who does not want to bite her, of the stick that does not want to hit the dog, of the fire that does not wish to burn the stick, etc. No, no, they say. And the body does not fit itself, as if the inside of the body cannot find its place within its exterior frame, its exterior form. The sound of her feet in the branches and dirt, lovely, the sound of her voice, her breath speaking the words, the cello played live by Eric-Maria Couturier opening and closing the work with soundless gesture, the full soundscape of the score, again so organically integrated into the work that it enhances the experience viscerally yet after a single viewing leaves little trace that can be distinguished apart from the overall work and its impressiond. Fantastic that! The movement is seen and hidden between, behind and through the trees, but she travels far and while she seems a forest creature, she also hovers near the edges of highways, in fields and tunnels, like a lost deer. The beauty of the mist of her breath in the cold -- to see the breath as a dancer moves is a lovely thing... There is a moment of sensual satisfaction when the cat finally says "yes", oh yes, it does want to eat that mouse. And that "yes" changes the entire story thread to an affirmation, of violence and embrace, as the mouse eats the chord that ties the cow, etc. And we wonder what kind of home Tippeke is returning to. But she is returning. And it is her home.

Musiques des Tables (Table Music) was great. Three students from the Conservatoire de Reuil-Malmaison performed the work sitting in three black chairs behind three pine colored tables with microphones beneath them. Wearing black, the lighting focused our eyes on the whiteness of their moving hands, their faces and necks, and the tables, and this enhanced the sense of this being as much a dance as a work of music. The gesture of making sound, and the sound of gestures was marked. It was, indeed, as much a dance for hands as it was a musical work. (I couldn't help asking myself what would it be like if the three performers were not all white skinned? Their skin seemed to be choreographed into our experience of the work. But this is perhaps more a question I have in my own work just now... But it reflects how we think, and how we perceive as we view art. I wouldn't have noticed this question about race, or skin color, perhaps, if it weren't a question that I have already been sniffing at in my own universe.) The sounds they make with just their hands on those tables offer an amazing variety that I could not have imagined possible. And as much as de Mey seems to like, or have liked at the time he created the work, keeping away from the harmonic and rhythmic grooves that satisfy with their predictability and allow us to physically, internally, ride on them, he nevertheless gives us just enough of a fugue to leave us wanting more. It was great.

Light Music was the last work of the evening -- and the most recent work presented. It uses computer technology that seems to capture the light reflected on the actual body of the performer, Jean Geoffroy, and reflects it onto the large screen behind him. We see again the use of light on the white skin of the performer dressed in black, moving in an otherwise black box. The performer's body is mostly hidden and certainly de-emphasized in the darkness, so we focus on the gesture and movement his hands make and reflect, and on their patterns in space as projected on the screen. It is a conductor without an orchestra, and it is indeed a dance. Again the score we hear is so much a part of the work, a soundscape that it is hard to recall separate from the overall experience.

De Mey took questions and spoke with the audience afterward. I was glad for that. What touched me the most was the bright openess in his face -- like a child -- when a child had a question to ask. Not condescending, but sincerely open and listening for the mind that asks and seeks. I appreciated learning that part of his questioning and exploration is also focused on the use of tools that were originally intended for other uses -- in particular, for military use. I think it is clear in his work how much joy he takes in questioning everything -- the tools, the forms, their use, the edges between things and their definitions. What a wonderful, questioning mind, and what a beautiful use of it.

©Ann Moradian, 2010.