the art of bodies in motion

Friday, January 18, 2013

Reflections on Performance: Aurélien Bory

Aurélien Bory's Compagnie 111
Géométrie de Caoutchouc (The Geometry of Rubber)
Pièce pour un chapiteau (Work for a Tent)
at Parc La Villette / Espace Chapiteaux
October 12, 2012, Paris

© Ann Moradian

Inside of an enormous big top tent on a cold October night I find myself looking onto a smaller big top tent that fills the stage. A huge sizzle of sound begins Aurélien Bory's new work Géométrie de Caoutchouc (Geometry of Rubber), followed by a downpour of rain. A green light glows from inside the tent, casting shadows of 2 bodies swimming within it. I keep wondering if the downpour was part of the soundtrack or not.

Gestation in the womb of a white circus tent. That is how I interpret the moving images before me. And later, an oozing birth out of the tent's bottom edges into a theatre-in-the-square. Four different couples perform, one on each side, depicting a similar but different progression, evolution, along the bottom edge -- caught up in the tent's stabilizing wires and in the beautiful, often uncomfortalbe contortions of relationships. I can't see what's happening on the other sides. I cushion my curiosity and content myself with what falls within my field of vision. (This takes an active effort.) I am relieved they are wearing coats, it is so chilly in here.

The top of the tent becomes a slick white mountain for the couples to climb, slide down, bounce on, fall from, aspire to, reach and attain. A rooftop trampoline. The canopy reverberates with every step they take in this unstable world. It becomes a nightmare of a cliff they finally surrender to, falling open-hearted, arms spread like angels to be caught on a single, thin horizontal wire. Bory doesn't exploit this, urging us to burst into applause for their gorgeous, heart-tugging daring. Instead, he continues on with the flow metaphors and movement, letting them evolve, almost non-chalantly.

The performers in Compagnie 111 are amazing. They list their work under "Circus," but it would be unfair to say they are not full fledged dancers that have learned to defy gravity and paint the space in three dimensions. Shadows of couples on the other sides sweep across the ceiling and fly over the walls, partially satisfying my curiosity to see and to know everything that is happening. And finally all 8 of them arrive at the top.

Bory creates physical environments with sets or props that he explores rigorously, like a study, a research project, a process of questioning. In this, he doesn't fail us. In the four works of his that I have seen over the years here in Paris, at his best, he strikes a magical balance between mechanics and poetry. (Plus ou moins l'infini and Sans objet, being excellent examples).

In Géométrie de Caoutchouc, some things don't work for me visually -- like the attempt to incorporate some of the clunky technical transitions of weights and counterweights that hold the "big top" in place, or the swimming embryos in the beginning. There just wasn't enough in these parts to keep my attention. It felt like they just went on too long.

The transition collapsing the tent, however, works beautifully. The base that creates the sides and the canopy are separated, and the canopy rises up into the heights as if it were alive. The perfomers use all of their weight to pull it back down, but it insists on floating back up, like a helium balloon. It will ascend. The performers are determined, but even when they work together as a team they can't keep it down from the sky. I love how sound of the falling weights clunking against the floor is integrated into the soundscore here.

I try not to think about how dangerous it is, as one man climbs onto the the tent top just before it flies up, skyward, once again. We follow his shadow on the ceiling and walls when the floating tent hides him from view, anxious to keep track of how he is doing. Plato's world of projections comes to mind, of course, as a gentle but not overbearing reference.

And finally, they do manage to collapse that living canopy, standing on the sky they have brought to earth, stamping it down -- its magic lost as it rejoins the mundane world of tangible carbons. But even then, it pulls itself up one last time -- four enormous, smooth white walls. We see one man facing it, like a giant blank piece of paper, or an indecipherable mystery. I am disappointed that Bory does not develope the possibilities here. It felt as if he had run out of time. It is hard to imagine him letting such a powerful image dissipate as the performers simply crawl underneath, all of them, and we are left with a white landscape, like a winter graveyard.

Funny that they never even took off their coats...

Mathieu Bleton, Raphaelle Boitel, Olivier Boyer, Pierre Cartonnet, Sarah Cosset, Cécile Fradet, Nicolas Lourdelle, Marlène Rostaing / Claire Cordelette-Lourdelle

Conception, scenography and direction: Aurélien Bory
Lighting Design & General Manager: Arno Veyrat
Music: Alain Kremski
Additional mixing: Joel Abriac
Artistic collaborations: Pierre Rigal, Albena Dimitrova, Olivier Alenda
Assistant Director: Sylvie Marcucci
Décor: Pierre Dequivre
Costumes: Sylvie Marcucci