Festival de Danse, Cannes

December 1, 2001

Maguy Marin’s company presented the world premiere of Points de fuite.
Olivier Houeix, courtesy Festival de Danse, Cannes

Festival de Danse, Cannes

December 1?8, 2001
Various venues

Cannes, France

Reviewed by Donald Hutera

Yorgos Loukos, the astute artistic director of the Lyon Opera Ballet, also oversees the Festival de Danse in Cannes. The biennial event is held off-season in a location best known for its ostentatious film festival. Movie stars’ handprints decorate the borders of the principal venue, the Palais des Festivals. There isn’t yet the equivalent?footprints, perhaps??for the dance festival. But look past the city’s nouveau riche glitter and balmy December weather and it’s plain that Loukos delivers a varied, quality program. This festival he could boast of world premieres from Frédéric Flamand’s Compagnie Charleroi Danses/Plan K, Josef Nadj, and Maguy Marin.

Flamand’s Body/Work/Leisure continues the Belgian choreographer’s collaborations with architects?in this instance, Jean. The pair delved into their titular subjects with ironic wit and visual imagination. The set is an industrial playground of platforms, ramps, scaffolding, and transparent sliding screens for live, pre-recorded, and superimposed film images. Flamand loves what he can do with all of this aesthetically. Philosophically, however, he’s suspicious. Beneath the functional beauty of the design is a spirit of inquiry about the implications of our pervasive information age and the interface between humans and machines.

An eclectic score reflects the wide-ranging nature of a piece that juggles nostalgia and romance, factory and sweatshop work, nature, fantasy, sports, science, advertising and consumerism, body fascism, celebrity, and computer game violence. Flamand’s special facility is to impose order on just such an overwhelming, multilayered mix of themes, physical motion, and high-technology. His dance-making is competent, occasionally more. The fourteen-strong company worked up pockets of superb dancing in which individuals were marked out within the coordinated sweep of the ensemble. They scuttled, shifted, and ran, signaled and gestured, swung round and hung off poles in passages of movement that arrested the eye and stirred the blood. Flamand’s spectacle ultimately showed more scope than depth, and sometimes it stated the obvious. But it was a fascinating assemblage which, despite a muted finish, carried a hint of salvation.

Nadj, director of the Centre Chorégraphique National d’Orléans, has a distinctive hybrid style that crosses silent-film comedy with object animation, plus echoes of Kafka and Magritte. Inspired by the work of Polish writer Bruno Schulz, Les Philosophes was staged with conspicuous originality in a specially constructed concentric setting. An outer rim of twenty-four video tableaux combined formal beauty with sly, crack-brained UM? religious symbolism. Inside was a small tiered arena for an audience of approximately 125, seated on stunted black chairs.

Nadj’s surreal series of elaborate stunts and absurd ritual behavior was built round notions of paternalism and puppetry, human and otherwise. Five men in black suits and bowler hats (trademark Nadj garb) embarked on a spiritual quest, first on film and then live on a round, white stage. Accompanied by live music, including klezmer and jazz, their straight-faced hijinks suggest a Central European take on butoh. The performers, gloomy-looking Nadj included, possessed a collective muscular control equal to their individual sense of character. For a piece essentially about the soul, viewers were left curiously detached. But the net effect was impressive and memorable.

Marin’s Points de fuite drew both walkouts and bravos. Hitched to Denis Mariotte’s frequently nerve-racking guitar music, played live by the dancers, the ninety-minute performance is guaranteed to raise the hackles of anyone who believes live performance is limited to happy niceties. Using writing by contrary, independent-minded thinker Charles Peguy as her springboard, Marin’s typically French intellectualism is not easily understood. Yet the grim integrity of this examination of self-perception and the pitfalls of communication demands respect. On an exposed stage, dancers in street clothes rushed, jerked, twirled, jumped, staggered, and grappled through patterned confrontations. Their blunt, abrasive, stripped-down movement vocabulary complemented bursts of spoken French text. There was also a brave group cameo by real people. I was sometimes alienated, never moved, often involved, and glad I saw it. Relieved, too, when it ended.

As for the rest of the program. Carolyn Carlson set her large-scale ensemble extravaganza Light Bringers to the exalted music of Philip Glass. This sincere, occasionally sloppy wedge of cautionary, post-hippie kitsch featured stunning use of laser lighting. Ohad Naharin’s tormenting, text-riddled Naharin’s Virus, performed by his Batsheva Dance Company, operated under a code even harder to crack than Marin’s. Its blasts at audience expectations carried an unexpected, dangerous cumulative power.