Compagnie Maguy Marin

April 6, 2004

Compagnie Maguy Marin
Joyce Theater

New York, New York

April 6–11, 2004

Reviewed by Susan Yung


Maguy Marin struck a fine balance between the nonspecific and the meaningful in her recent work, Les applaudissements ne se mangent pas (One Can’t Eat Applause). The political and social turmoil of Latin America served as the impetus for the 2002 piece. Lining three sides of the stage, a car-wash-style curtain made of cheerfully colored plastic strips evoked tourist-friendly, bright-hued folklorica and alluded to a certain low level of economic development that yields more shiny promise than actual results, à la K-Mart. More important, the negative space behind the curtain signified the unknown, darkness, danger.

The nine dancers—Ulises Alvarez, Manuel Chabanis, Teresa Cunha, Isaias Jauregui, Sylvie Pabiot, Thierry Partaud, Cathy Polo, Dominique Uber, and Brigitte Valverde—wore everyday street clothes for costumes (designed by Chantal Cloupet), underscoring the fact that anyone could be a victim.

Although the soundtrack of ominous strings and crescendoing techno-clamor by Denis Mariotte simmered in the background with no discernible beat, the dancers repeatedly strode across the stage to a common underlying pulse throughout the hour-plus piece. They massed together and clicked into tableaux in which individuals carried out specific roles, as if executing a precise plot, then just as abruptly broke apart. Exuding paranoia, they stopped to look around, switched directions on a dime, or picked up speed, breaking into a panicky run. The curtain formed a permeable but opaque barrier through which they slipped quietly or crashed forcefully. Those who stopped next to the curtain—either collapsing on the floor or standing, hesitant—were hustled offstage menacingly.

In times of turmoil, alliances are often tenuous, liable to shift minute to minute. An apparent friend might turn informant, an embrace might evolve into a stranglehold. The dancers repeat scenes, reminding us that even the darkest episodes of history can recur. Marin layers these frightening premises on top of elegantly structured choreography, building the emotional tension to a pressure-cooker level. Departing from much of her previous work by employing less literal production values, she trusts the audience’s cognitive skills and succeeds wildly.

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