One of the bravest artistic gambits in dance is a full-length solo performance, such as Philippe Decouflé’s recent Solo: Le doute m’habite. Decouflé is best known for huge-scale spectacles. His “smaller” events seen in New York have been presented in BAM’s Opera House; larger projects include choreographing the Albertville Winter Olympics opening ceremony. He can’t be blamed for wanting to scale it down, but in the interim, he seems to have lost sight of some fundamentals.
Decouflé spoke onstage of doing things he’s never done before, like show his feet, which certainly received ample exposure. As he moved in live time, a large, tandem image of his feet appeared onscreen. His hands and their shadows received more, excessive, screen time, performing wiggly waves and finger kicklines. He experimented with variations on the concept of doubled imagery and split screens with the help of Olivier Simola’s videography. Some were more successful, such as a segment he prefaced by acknowledging his admiration for Busby Berkeley. A black and white image of Decouflé stepped-and-repeated to a vanishing point, recalling Berkeley’s linear extravaganzas. In another visually intriguing segment, a video image of him curved into a kaleidoscope-like style spiral, receding as it repeated.
Other segments—such as his black silhouette dancing in front of a blue surround—came across like a first-generation iPod ad, except the dancing was more inventive in those spots. Decouflé has apparently tailored his movement to be as simple as possible, perhaps so it won’t be confusing after it’s filtered through cameras and projections, silhouetted, split, flipped, and reproduced 20 times. One of the most dance-like repeating movements was a side bend, one leg and both arms extended in parallel; in another, he contracted his body and curved his arms to give the impression of hugging a sphere.
He indulged his autobiographical penchant by displaying via video photographs of himself and his family, for which he sat at a desk like Spalding Gray having a Kodak moment. Archival clips of someone dancing (presumably him) were shown from time to time. Musician Joachim Latarjet played the trombone, ukelele, and other instruments, interspersed with recorded music. While we became acquainted with more personal aspects of Decouflé, the man, there was little to evoke the circus-like magic he has created in the past.