Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
November 21, 2005
Reviewed by Cynthia Hedstrom
French choreographer Mathilde Monnier’s new work, frère&sœur, grabs attention like a dog jumping at someone’s throat. Composed for an ensemble of 12 fearless dancers, the opening of this three-part dance plunges into the depths of human behavior.
The set, designed by Stéphane Bouquet, is bleak: three white platforms and a large black box on a stark stage. Filling a center platform, the dancers meet face to face. Reaching for a neck or head, the aggressor twists and throws the undefended body into contortions, repeatedly attacking and manipulating—fingers pull a jaw open, hands mash a face, weight forces a body into tortuous positions. Roles change; the attackers become victims. All are culpable, including the audience, with its gut fascination and horror. The dance feels violent and chaotic but is artfully controlled. Monnier’s skillful study of human aggression, supported by composer Erikm’s percussive horns and electronic mix and the extreme physical commitment of the dancers, reaches deep into the horror of physical violence.
Part two delves into another side of physical intensity. A revolving trio is introduced in which two bodies become supports for a third. The suspended dancer is spread-eagled and vulnerable, yet trusting and elevated. On a smaller platform, one dancer’s hands slice up and down the front of his body, then open, unprotected to the world as his chest expands and arches back. Others swoon into a passionate kiss or an intimate exploration of the other’s body.
In the third part, the dancers assimilate what has transpired. A hand goes to the neck and the head slightly shivers. A couple approaches each other, tenderly and slowly echoing moves from an earlier violent encounter. But as the choreography becomes more internalized, it becomes murky. Violence and physical desire, so clearly depicted, give way to a more ambiguous communal state, and the dance loses its sharp coherence. It slows, becoming more gentle, ending in a blackout while the sound score increases in intensity, suggesting again the danger inherent in our human makeup. Still, Monnier and her collaborators have made a brave, arresting work that cuts to the quick of our physical lives.