Peek Into Paris

From the art majeur to the avant-garde, modern and postmodern dance shines in La Ville Lumière. Although it presents its share of established companies and choreographers, Théâtre National de Chaillot tends to be more experimental and supportive of the up-and-coming than Théâtre de la Ville, where Preljocaj, Bausch, and De Keersmaeker were among this season’s principaux artistes. Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, Chaillot affords sweet views through the corridor windows among its three performance spaces. It has been under the direction of choreographers since 2008 and is now predominantly dance-centered. Danièle Desnoyers’s Paradoxe Mélodie and Stephanie Lake’s Dual were featured on Chaillot’s early summer calendar.

Paradoxe Mèlodie at Thèátre National de Chaillot. Dancers: Nicolas Patry, Brice Noeser, Karina Champoux, Jason Martin, ÈÃÂlise Vanderborght, Clementine Schindler, Molly Johnson. Photo: Luc Senècal.

The underground dance scene is alive and well, living where the heart of Paris’s millennial culture beats: beyond Le Boulevard Périphérique. In Pantin, the commune in the northeastern suburb of Paris, part of the banlieu, you quickly forget the iconic limestone architecture of the old city. Its buildings are a patchwork of colors and styles just like its community of mixed ethnicities and backgrounds. A twenty-minute metro ride from the lively bars of Canal Saint Martin is Pantin’s Centre National de la Danse (CND). Founded in 1998 by the French ministry of culture, CND is not merely a theater or performance space, but also a hub for movement research and education, archival projects, dance in cinema, and workshops surrounding the movement arts. The live performances are not advertised in the same manner as those of Théâtre de la Ville or Chaillot; I haven’t seen any glossy ads in the metro. CND is by and for dancers, choreographers, hardcore choreo-philes, and their communities, which tend to be knitted together by French social media. The audience at choreographer Fabrice Lambert’s well-attended Solaire, on June 4, resembled that of a Bushwick warehouse production rather than a dance theater crowd.

 

Danièle Desnoyers’s Paradoxe Mélodie
Théâtre CHAILLOT | MAY 28 – 30, 2015

Québécoise choreographer Danièle Desnoyers’s company, Le Carré des Lombes (a reference to the dance-critical quadratus lumborum muscle in the lower back), was founded in 1989 and has performed in North America, Europe, and Asia. Théâtre Chaillot had previously presented Desnoyers’s Québécois contemporaries Marie Chouinard and Paul-André Fortier.

In Paradoxe Mélodie, Desnoyers tells us that she sets out to answer, “How can dance help engage with life and how can life reflect on a dancing body?” But the performance does not yield any new insights on this topic. Her defining choreographic interest, Desnoyers says, is the intersection among dance, music, and visual art. This is hardly innovative, seeing as an interdisciplinary focus is present in virtually all of dance. Given these over-generalized departure points, it is perhaps not surprising that the structure and composition of the piece is no revelation. There are, however, plenty of individual moments of clever choreography beautifully danced.

The opening of Paradoxe Mélodie is visually engaging: a dramatic figure is stuck in a cloud of bedroom sheets. Her movements creak in tandem with the wooden instrument layered above the booming electric sounds. Harpist Éveline Grégoire-Rousseau performs alongside the dancers on stage, a symbol for the melody and a foil for the discordant electroacoustic sounds of Nicolas Bernier offstage. As the techno tones intensify, dancers join the action and walk on one by one. You can see each distinct personality in the way the dancers hold their bodies and move. Speaking with me after the performance, dancer Nicolas Patry attributes this to the fact that Carré des Lombes is a project-based company that encourages the dancers to gain experience elsewhere in order to enrich and individualize their movement styles.

The ensemble moments in the piece tend to be somewhat bland, resembling a dance improvisation game at times. But at other moments, the flat combinations of dancers are studded with lovely instances of cohesion, such as a series of repeating lifts into partial turns that leaves each dancer continuing in his or her own direction. These micro-duets are as spontaneous as the momentary interactions that make up our lives.

Dual at Thèátre National de Chaillot. Dancers: Sara Black and Alisdair Macindoe. Photo: Byron Perry.

Some of the piece’s humorous character scenes surface as abrasive. In an exaggerated performance of mockery, two dancers enter with pink and blue bulges hiked up to their waists as oversized babies in diapers. Letting the material drop to full princess skirts, they take on convoluted characters who shriek in awful singing tones, or adolescently exclaim, “bitches!” the silence giving way to the familiar sounds of electric feedback and the tiresome urgency of the thwunking beat. Still, other vignettes are refreshing and well placed. The best parodies the aging dancer by featuring a lone performer executing a perfect mom-on-the-dance-floor hip swivel, exuberant to be grooving on her own.

Dancers Clémentine Schindler and Nicolas Patry salvage the evening. Patry—lanky and long-limbed with a mop of curly hair—and Schindler—sprite-like and compact—are a striking contrast. Individually commanding, together they vibrate on a high frequency. They dance with the energy of self-possessed performers gripped by the intimacy of never losing one another’s presence, ending their piece by holding one another’s limbs and melting to the ground. The amplified harp punctuates the conclusion of the pas de deux, sounding more like a motor propeller than an angelic accessory.

 

Stephanie Lake’s Dual
Théâtre CHAILLOT | JUNE 3 – 6, 2015

In contrast to the large-scale proscenium presentation of Paradoxe Mélodie in Chaillot’s Salle Jean Vilar, the intimate underground studio space of the theater’s Salle Maurice Béjart is the setting for Australian choreographer Stephanie Lake’s Dual. Lake, like Desnoyers, was born in Canada. She spent her formative years growing up in Tasmania. Now based in Melbourne, Lake has danced for the companies Chunky Move, Lucy Guerin Inc., and Balletlab.

Dual, performed by Helpmann Award-winning dancers Alisdair Macindoe and Sara Black, is a study in autonomy and interaction. Two solos are performed one after the other, and, at the end, they are executed simultaneously as a third piece altogether—the effect of which is far greater than the sum of the solos. It is not that the individual paths of expression aren’t excellent on their own. Instead, when the puzzle pieces fit together, audience members are left floored by the intricacy and intelligence of the choreographic engineering.

Macindoe begins on the corner of the marley wearing gray khaki pants and a tee shirt. He lurches, stepping and swerving with razor-sharp precision to thumping techno. The audience benefits from the intimacy of the space, being only a jeté’s distance away from the dancer’s body. The clean lines of each action are pronounced even as his body turns to spasmodic shaking. Lake’s choreography is a balance of mechanical and organic, stretching and snapping. Using a single body part to cut the air and illustrate geometric paths of tutting, Macindoe seems to be acting out a dramatic sci-fi narrative with his eyes fixed beyond the seeable realm and his body reacting to ineffable forces. Seated, he flops his hands and feet back and forth as if they’re controlled by one muscle. Toward the end of his solo, stillness takes over and the music turns to a cinematic soundscape of rain and thunder. Macindoe stands on the sidelines of the rectangle, feet planted firmly in the ground as his body departs from its center point and snaps back to a straight posture. The movement is accompanied by spoken sound effects that resemble little boys buzzing around their toy airplanes. Entering the dance field again, Macindoe restarts his spastic shaking and begins whispering to himself in an almost J.K. Rowling-esque serpentine language. Even before his solo intertwines with Black’s, there is an evident duality—an internal struggle pulling him one direction and then another.

Solaire at Centre Nationale de la Danse Pantin. Fabrice Lambert. Photo: Alain Julien.

The lights darken and then reappear in a warmer, yellower hue, welcoming Black to the center space. Compared to Macindoe’s superhuman manipulations, Black’s movements seem more internal and psychological. Not that Black’s dancing is any less superhuman. She executes that same sustained shaking in her own style, and with riveting muscular strength. There may be phrases repeated from Macindoe’s solo, but they are delivered with Black’s singular dynamism. Hand and head turn this way and that. Birds are added to the collection of mechanical, human, and animal sounds. “Ka,” Black utters. Stretching, she channels a stream of kinetic energy and then releases it, collapsing to the ground in spastic convulsions. Her hand gestures mime a dramatic storyline, adding to the narrative Macindoe has begun.

The lights go down and there is a moment’s pause to allow Black to catch her breath. As the two dancers take off in unison from their places at the corners of the marley, it is evident that their first solo phrases were identical. Both the music and the narratives begin to synthesize. Lake weaves in poignant points of contact: a handshake combination here, an embrace there. On one side of the marley the dancers stand face to face and synchronize their twitches. Then, Macindoe drops down and begins accelerating along the floor while Black moves straight, contained. They regain common altitude as their four hands flap in question and answer, claiming and achieving for their bodies an ever-narrowing elevation gap, like water seeking its own level. In Dual,the solos stay true to themselves, yet the choreography is inevitably altered. At one moment, Black dances the choreography of her original solo until an intervening force—another human—changes her course and heightens her expression. Dual configures two people along their individual paths and illustrates what is created when these paths cross and intertwine. Stephanie Lake’s intention is that it be “read as seeing one side of the story, then the other, and then the truth.” This is brilliantly achieved in a nonverbal art form: the role of narrator is handed from Macindoe to Black as their bodies each tell a personal story before the final marriage of their subjective points of view.

 

Fabrice Lambert’s Solaire
CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA DANSE PANTIN  NUITS
SOLAIRES | JUNE 4 – 5, 2015

French choreographer Fabrice Lambert curated the weeklong program of Nuits Solaires to celebrate the culmination of his residency at the National Center of Contemporary Dance of Angers. His company, L’Expérience Harmaat, is a gathering place for artists of different disciplines to work on projects as a collective.Lambert invited some of these artists to participate in a series of performances, installations, photography exhibitions, and DJ sets. Created in 2010, Solaire serves as a symbol of the accumulation and intersection of artistic fields celebrated with Nuits Solaires. Lambert worked in close partnership with lighting designer Philippe Gladieux, and choreographed the piece with assistance from the choreographer Hanna Hedman, who performs in the piece alongside Lambert and the other dancers.

Arriving to see Solaire, I am met by a crowd around choreographer and company member Stephen Thompson, who is performing a piece in the atrium. Moving from there to the grand studio, I find only slightly more structure; the vibe is still casual and playful. The piece begins with a pattern of changing lights above the stage. A rain-like, distant sound pitter-patters atop a low humming. The shadows projected on the ground dance this way and that before five figures scuttle on stage, each facing a different direction. The dancers move freely and then freeze for an extended time, the lights fading.

The piece progresses by exposing a relationship between light and motion. At one moment the lights dim almost completely, leaving only the contours of the bodies visible. There is a sense of nightfall as the eyes adjust and follow the choreography of the shadowy bodies. It recalls painter Chris Ofili’s Blue Rider series recently shown at the New Museum, inspired by the twilight hues and accompanying gallery light of Mark Rothko’s chapel in Houston. Dancers enter and exit in various combinations. Although each has a distinct stature and movement style, the group melds into collective clumps like animated sculptures. Soaking in the light from above and the energy from one another, the dancers peacefully turn their heads in divergent directions before gazing at their rising arms. They melt to the ground and crawl to reclaim their coordinates in space. A sudden burst of bright light and jamming rock music reawakens individual personas, and dancers Madeleine Fournier and Stephen Thompson speak to each other with a corporeal vernacular emphasized by a soundbite of chatty conversation. Hedman and Lambert take over with a jog that cuts interesting slices across the floor. Others join and the lighting becomes dark as the dancers travel as a group. The intervals of stillness and movement restart and the audience is tasked with detecting whose turn it is to initiate motion—who budged a nanosecond before the rest. Then, the five individuals take their resting poses while balanced on their hips, feet hovering, and bodies like windmills on a calm day. The stage grows darker with each sway, each pull, and each release of tension until complete darkness brings complete stillness.

The three pieces bear witness to the sophistication and vibrancy of Paris dance. With the hyacinths emerging as the showy debutantes of the Tuileries Gardens, and the visitors forging a kind of bal-musette pilgrimage to the classics of French culture, the city of the Diaghilev and Louis XIV boasts an early summer dance scene vivant on both banks of the Seine—and beyond them.

Contributor

Gillian Jakab

Gillian Jakab is the Fine Arts and Community & Culture editor at The Michigan Daily.

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