Xaivier Le Roy

Xavier Le Roy and his dancers performed at The Kitchen.
Katrin Schoof, courtesy The Kitchen

Xavier Le Roy

The Kitchen
New York, New York
October 9–18, 2002

Reviewed by Gia Kourlas

Xavier Le Roy's Giszelle opens and closes with the familiar music of Adolphe Adam's score. Apart from that, it has little in common with the Romantic ballet. In the solo, one of two presented at the Kitchen, Le Roy's approach is like a man interested in a woman for only one reason. But it's not as dirty as it sounds: He's just after her icon status.

The French choreographer, a former molecular biologist based in Berlin, conjures hallucinogenic worlds through dance. No matter how riveting the final effect, however, Le Roy achieves his goals using simple means. As his solos unfold, there are moments in which your own body can't help but react to the dips and turns, as if a floor has dropped from beneath you. The amazing part is that Le Roy doesn't rely on technology; the body is his tool.

Le Roy created Giszelle for the astonishing Hungarian dancer Eszter Salamon in 2001. The solo places Salamon in a seemingly impossible position: interpreter of two thousand years of cultural icons. But she succeeded in unraveling the evolutionary process right; as sinewy as a tiger about to pounce and as delicate as a trailing, pink silk scarf, Salamon transformed herself from an apelike creature to Rodin's The Thinker to John Travolta's disco stance in Saturday Night Fever. She delivered a moonwalk worthy of Michael Jackson, then lounged seductively on the floor, mimicking Brigitte Bardot in Le Mépris and asking a series of questions (in French), relating to body parts: "Do you like my knee? Do you like my leg?"

For the most part Le Roy subversively placed Salamon facing the back of the stage, not the audience. The dancer captivated us with her flair for motion but kept us emotionally at a distance. In the more intimate second half, Salamon returned to the stage wearing a black wig and carrying a large, plastic, plaid bag, to perform, by all appearances, a disconnected work: The B Side of Giselle (or, Parts We Had Planned Not to Show. In it, discarded props, including a small stool, and text by Kathy Acker offered a clever look at Le Roy's choreographic process. Clearly, the task-based movement pointed toward his interest in Judson Dance Theater, but The B Side is more than just a conceptual ride, academic or otherwise: Le Roy creates a world out of scraps that is theatrically concise and brimming with absurd surprises. This is another display of bodily metamorphosis—clearly Giszelle's relative—yet somehow more personal. At one point, Salamon climbed into her bag and zipped it up, inching and rolling her way across the floor. In this ordinary shopping tote, she transformed herself into a charming animal.

A similar yet even more bizarre transformation marks the 1998 solo, Self-Unfinished, which Le Roy performed during the second half of his run. He began by sitting at a table, his arms and legs crossed casually; as audience members settled into their seats, Le Roy, neither combative nor bored, stared back. When he finally moved, it was to walk decisively to a boom box placed on the floor; he turned it on, but nothing happened. Returning to his chair, he rose upright in stiff, robotic movements. Hilariously, each mechanical gesture was paired with a creaking sound that he made with his own mouth.

The meat of Self-Unfinished occurred when Le Roy slowed the pace, rendering his movement practically imperceptible; he removed his button-down shirt, pants, and Converse sneakers to reveal a long, black, knit dress. Pulling the skirt over his head, he doubled over, eventually resting on his shoulders with his head tucked underneath and his legs hidden from view. With his arms flopped loosely to either side of his torso, he became a frog. And like Salamon's bag creature, Le Roy's reptilian form had a personality. In a feisty fit, he crawled under the table and, with all his might, kicked off the top.

After this grueling experience, Le Roy calmly dressed, arranged the table and chair and walked to his boom box. He pressed play, and this time a song, Diana Ross's "Upside Down," filled the formerly silent stage. As the apt words sank in ("Upside down / Boy, you turn me / Inside out / And round and round"), he disappeared from the space, leaving us to wonder: Did we see it, or did we dream it?

But Le Roy, who performed Self-Unfinished at the Kitchen in 2000, is himself the dream. His complex, visceral dances resemble a stream of photographic negatives, speeded up or slowed down, depending on the context. For both the body and the mind, it is a thrill. He is a thinking choreographer who knows that the possibilities of movement are endless.

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