We Are People Before We Are Dancers...by Christine Hou
What does it mean to dance and not have interpretation imposed on you—to move before you feel? What does it mean to have a story? How do you begin to tell it? Choreographer Jérôme Bel navigates these questions in his solo piece, Cédric Andrieux, which made its New York City premiere at the Joyce Theater on September 18. In this insightful work, dancer Cédric Andrieux straightforwardly tells the story of his life, recounting memories that led up to this precise moment.
At once a genuine collaboration between Bel and Andrieux and an unconventional tribute to Merce Cunningham, Cédric Andrieux conveys the expectations and disappointments that we as an audience don’t normally see when watching dance. Entering the stage in bright blue track pants and a gray hoodie, Andrieux matter-of-factly traces his beginnings through the recent past: from his description as a child that liked to wear costumes and pretended to speak foreign languages to the instructors that told him he was not naturally gifted with dance. From his uncertain years in New York City with Merce Cunningham to performing the “less violent” work of Trisha Brown and Bel, Andrieux comes of age while simultaneously paying homage to these choreographers and their uninhibited approach to movement.
The majority of the performance focuses on the eight emotionally and physically exhausting years Andrieux spent with Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He recalls his first experience with a Cunningham performance: “I looked at it the same way as I would look at a painting. I looked at it on stage, and then I started to think of other things.” He explains while averting his gaze to the side, towards the sky, and then back again to the audience. “You look away and then you come back but without the fear of having missed anything…there were no more rules when watching a performance.”
Likewise, there are no rules to making dance as Bel removes the Cunningham veneer. Andrieux’s docile body demonstrates repetitive exercises at the beginning of a class. He continues to explain and enact the “slow and laborious process” of rehearsing with an aged and less-mobile Cunningham, who at this point was choreographing on a specialized computer program and then dictating each movement in a tedious three-step process. “He was asking us to do things that were nearly impossible.”
In Cédric Andrieux, Bel demystifies modern dance through Andrieux’s first-hand experiences; autobiography and movement interweave with utmost modesty. As I listen to Andrieux’s story, faint recollections from the first time I encountered all these choreographers played back in my mind—the initial anxiety of not “getting” it, and how that soon faded into liberating enjoyment. Throughout the performance I was looking away, mentally, at my own memories, but always coming back to Andrieux’s slow and steady voice, without the fear of having missed anything.
Christine Hou is a poet and arts writer living in Brooklyn.