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By Alexander Meinertz
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Grimaldi Forum, Monte-Carlo, Monaco
December 26–29, 2004
Reviewed by Alexander Meinertz
In Memoriam, a dance-theater piece by a modern dance choreographer for a classical ballet company, explores notions of life and death and asks whether the present cannot also define the past. Belgian choreographer Sidi Barbi Cherkaoui built the piece with a succession of brief scenes that refer to a vertical cut in time and show different layers of the memory of a moment: Death. The deaths of the characters onstage, the deaths of their loved ones.
The work came about when Cherkaoui, who trained at Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s school, P.A.R.T.S., in Bruxelles, received the Emerging Choreographer Prize at the Monaco Dance Forum’s Nijinsky Awards in 2002. The prize, honoring his work Rien de Rien (2001), created for Belgian dance company Les Ballets C de la B., led to a commission for Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
Ensemble scenes alternate with solos and duets. Cherkaoui’s movement vocabulary, stemming primarily from improvisation, is often surprising and effective. Bodies arch on the floor and rock like boats on troubled seas; lonely creatures looking for consolation approach each other tentatively and embrace. The choreography incorporates Arab folkloric elements and capitalizes on the dancers’ physical virtuosity but makes little use of their classical vocabulary. Clad in luxurious, long skirts, they turn like dancing Dervishes. The dancers rotate endlessly like planets in orbit to the poignant lamentations of a Corsican polyphonic group, A Filetta, and are interrupted only when a man on a moped crosses the stage. Later he and a girlfriend further defuse the pathos with absurdly funny small talk about near-death experiences and accidents in traffic.
Cherkaoui addresses his audience with dialogue, then draws back into a more abstract universe of movement and sound, most successfully in the ballet’s minimalist closing scene. A desolate girl, on pointe, stays in the same spot and dejectedly moves her hands in circles around her head, torso, and arms. She is joined by another dancer, and then another, until the ensemble, like ghosts in limbo, fills the stage, repeating her movements, magnifying the emotion and the longing that haunts In Memoriam.
For more information: www.balletsdemontecarlo.com