Noemie LaFrance

May 5, 2004

Noémie LaFrance
Delancey and Essex Municipal Parking Garage

New York, New York

May 5–29, 2004

Reviewed by Susan Yung

If you’ve ever lost your car in a parking garage late at night, your state of mind at that moment is most likely reflected in Noir, Noémie LaFrance’s new site-specific performance inspired by film noir. In a dingy Lower East Side parking garage, using cars as seating modules, LaFrance deployed ten dancers to flesh out the audience’s wildest garage-related fantasies and fears. Brooks Williams’ soundtrack filled the air with scratchy rumblings, big chords, piercing frequencies, and excerpts from songs (ranging from Benny Goodman to Edmund Mooney) and film (Put the Blame on Mame, Vertigo, and more).

LaFrance is keen on high style. The women, with hair bobbed and waved, wore glam 1940s dresses, white evening frocks, and smart suits; the men trenchcoats, fedoras, and tuxedos. (LaFrance designed the costumes.) Everyone smoked. Paranoid, hurried walking and running became staples, while the grubby, sloped concrete ramp limited the women to hoisted lifts, draping over the men’s arms, and ballroom dips. Clever theatrical devices abounded, as when the dancers pressed their cheeks against sheets of mirrored Plexiglas that they carried stuck to their palms, in which the audience saw their reflections. Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s sets also featured clip-on chandeliers that transformed the ramp into a ballroom and Venetian blinds suspended from the concrete beams.

LaFrance spaced the five couples over the length of the ramp, allowing the whole audience to see the action but diluting the impact that a single, focused episode would have made. In contrast, a scene featuring a sole woman strumming a guitar as she strolled up the ramp radiated a desirable intensity. Although the performers maintained an admirable consistency of character, they needed more of a story to inhabit.

A key dramatic structure—seating the audience in cars—made the experience feel more voyeuristic than normal, but also made it difficult to see. That in turn augmented the pervasive sense of paranoia, which was heightened when the performers handed off an attaché case or blithely waved a gun in the air. Dusk had passed into dark by the work’s end, when horn honking and headlight flashing mixed with applause—a quirky ovation for a one-of-a-kind performance.