Compagnie Martine Pisani

June 19, 2007

“OK, it’s time. I’m going to get undressed and stand here naked.” So spoke the thin man, wearing street clothes, who walked onstage and stood at rest before the audience. And with that he began to describe his actions and feelings, as if he actually were taking off his clothes. But he wasn’t. Curiously, this immobile narration conveyed as visceral a sense of nakedness as if the dancer had in fact stripped. Hearing the thoughts he might have had as he removed his shirt or bent to take his pants off felt more intimate than watching flesh revealed in silence, from a distance.

In Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), French choreographer Martine Pisani, according to her program note, attempted to create a solo dance with four dancers. This endeavor yielded a work both comically absurd and unexpectedly complex. Christophe Ives, Théo Kooijman, Eduard Mont de Palol, and Olivier Schram all moved with a loose playfulness that appeared by turns haphazard or delicate and considered. As one dancer took center stage the others watched from the sides, acting as narrators, or chorus, or simply as audience. As in the opening, one dancer might narrate a series of actions that would not be performed until later, by another dancer. The men appeared simultaneously unique and interchangeable.

Had you been peering through a window at the men, you might have felt that rather than watching dancers, you were watching inmates of an asylum. They ran and hopped. They carried props—water bottles, tape players, paper signs, a comb—and riffed on them. They took their clothes off (down to underwear only) and traded shirts or pants or shoes. They drank cups of water, and were struck with drowsiness when center stage. They blurred the line between being amusing and being themselves amused. They moved rather than danced, and in a consciously awkward way, scrambling across the floor, jumping wildly about, or trudging along the sidelines as if they had a job to do.

Toward the end of the hour-long work, even when the men’s antics began to feel repetitive, their characters remained engaging to watch—so much, though, that they never quite succeeded in becoming one person. What a waste of resources that would have been, anyway!