Lyon Opera Ballet

September 25, 2011

Lyon, France
September 14–18, 2011

Performance reviewed: Sep. 14

By Laura Cappelle

Men and women assuming poses, wearing sunglasses, sporting long black beards, carrying a Virgin-like figure, praying, hugging. Dancing? Not really.

This about sums up Maguy Marin’s latest creation for the Lyon Opera Ballet, Faces. Marin, who was based in Lyon until this year, has long enjoyed a close relationship with the company and was behind one of their greatest hits, a very theatrical version of Cinderella first performed in 1985. Her new full-evening work, however, seems to have lost the plot along with the troupe.

What Marin purports to show us in Faces is the workings of a crowd, of mass delusion in the context of modern PR techniques. Dancers dressed in plain clothes enter the stage slowly, one by one, glancing at each other as they reach their spot. Behind them is a wide mirror and to the sides, four small screens tracking their movements from different angles, like surveillance cameras.

Their blank gaze is troubling, but nothing significant comes of this tension. What follows instead is an endless series of tableaux set to an electronic soundtrack featuring speeches, bits of music and much crackling, like a radio switching between signals. Blackouts allow the dancers to rearrange themselves, and we witness the shifts in the social groups they embody: The bearded men don sunglasses, a few at a time, before moving on to the next metaphor.

The message, however, is old news (look how alienated society is!) and its treatment rather heavy-handed. As epiphanies go, staring at statues drinking Coke or posing as Karl Lagerfeld is unlikely to have much effect in this day and age, and as a result, Faces amounts to very little. A few tableaux bring relief—a lovely chain of stylized poses, humorous masks, a few tango steps the dancers sketch in couples—but even as pure theater, the production hammers an idea so commonplace it soon starts to ring hollow.

Why Marin needs 28 well-trained dancers to perform this piece is also puzzling. As they left the stage one by one, as slowly as they had appeared at the beginning, a woman behind me whispered in despair: “Thank God there aren’t 50 of them.” A number of audience members had already walked out, and the applause was muted when the last dancer finally disappeared into the wings. The political posture had long overcome the medium, and while it’s easy enough to agree with Marin’s message, its stage rendition in Faces is dull to the point of banality.


Photo: Dancers of Lyon Opera Ballet in Maguy Marin’s
Faces. © Jean-Pierre Maurin, Courtesy Lyon Opera.