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Opéra Bastille, Small Amphitheatre (June 23rd 2003)
Before proceeding, the reader is asked to bear in mind that the oldest choreographer at this particular event was thirty, and the youngest, but twenty. Indulgence is therefore in order.
These kids have time to grow up. But when one puts on a performance for paying guests, might I suggest that it’s about time they did.
Presented eleven times since 1981 when it was set up by the Group for Choreographic Research (GCR), the event Danseurs chorégraphes takes place only when the GCR opines that its choreographers, who must all be on active duty with the POB, have come up with something presentable in public.
Seated next to me at the aforesaid event, oddly enough, was the étoile Jean-Guillaume Bart. On a tense schedule standing in for older étoiles who no longer perform certain roles, M. Bart applies the scant leisure he does have, to choreography. Precisely four weeks ago, at a Young Dancers’ Evening, M. Bart had presented a short pas de deux of his own composing, entitled Javotte.
Based on steps, rather than theatrical tricks, Javotte is ten minutes of brass-tacks hard work and choreographic invention.
Anyone who thinks that was easy to choreograph has another think coming.
Starting for example, with Saburo Teshigawara, Angelin Preljocaj, and/or Pina Bausch, I would defy anyone to sit down in the quiet of his study, and compose ten minutes of steps as coherent as what we have got with this Javotte.
In working with steps, rather than a formless writhing and display of ego-states, our M. Bart has indeed crawled out onto a limb. But he is not quite alone out there in the cold, rain and wind.
As the English dancer Michael Corder has just put it "Not enough choreographers today are being encouraged to work within a classical technique, and too many companies are relying on a small pool of fashionable contemporary choreographers to come in and make high-impact pieces that are often musically superficial and can even endanger the dancers. It creates a one-size-fits-all style that gets boring, with everyone performing everyone else’s repertoire." (interview to CriticalDance Monthly, July 2003)
Or Bruce Sansom, Director of Development for Rambert Ballet Company: "At certain levels ballet companies are stealing from contemporary dance companies and we’re in danger of ending up with an amalgam, where companies’ reps become indistinguishable. That’s a concern to me. A Company has to decide what they are, who they are and why they are." (interview to CriticalDance, 2002)
With that in mind, back to the evening of June 23rd at the Opéra Bastille.
The first offering, by Bruno Bouché, was entitled Ce qui reste. Two lads clamber all over each other. As they are dressed in black and the floor is black, whatever boring thing it is they are up to, cannot, Praise the Lord, be seen. Say no more of what the girls commit on linen sheets. The "music" is the usual bruitage.
There followed Nicolas Paul’s On peut toujours interpréter le vol des oiseaux. Dressed in white, the violinist Tedi Papavrami plays a movement from a Bach sonata, as a white-dressed twin, Jean-Christophe Guerri, runs amok, rolling about on the ground, turning hand-springs, and clunking about on his knees as though the knee were a joint of no significance to a dancer.
Now for the pits. In all fairness, its "choreographer" is a boy of twenty, M. Sébastien Bertaud.
Although the present writer looks a strait-laced and intensely dull old bird, I actually have a more than passing acquaintance with the world of vaudeville, revue and generally, sleaze, for reasons of no concern to us here. Here we have that six-foot Aphrodite, Marie-Agnès Gillot, in a platinum wig, bumping and grinding like an Amsterdam stripper in a cage. The music is loud, and calls for ear-plugs. M. Bertaud’s notes tell us that it has to do with "loss of identity, sublimation and illusion".
I say it’s Amsterdam strippers bumping and grinding.
Lastly - it was not lastly, actually, but I walked out after this - Háblame by Jean-Philippe Dury. Back to the world of music-hall, revue and just plain sleaze. At the Lido, the Crazy Horse and so forth, there are always a couple of "artistic" numbers very like this Espagnolade. Alongside five bare-legged girls, M. Dury himself undulates in a costume designed to set off his beautiful shoulders and arms. Perhaps that was the point of the operation ?
Each piece was introduced by an inane little text straight out of Jean-Saul Partre.
The question is, why do highly-educated men get up to such shenanigans ?
One suspects they believe they must Run with the Pack.
The Pack, the Influentials, who guide our allegedly-classical theatres. This lot is stuck in a time-warp. They were Young and Hip in the 1950s, 60s or 70s. Count the years ! A half-century ago. What strikes the rest of the world as shop-soiled goods, are still being thrust at the public as "modern".
Some of the Influentials may be naive, and think it’s all Good Clean Fun. Others are not the slightest bit naive.
At Prague, at Berlin, at Paris and at Vienna, in the late 19th Century, the Pack’s business was to épater le bourgeois, harping on a single theme, viz., Eros/Thanatos. Which, in Modern Speak, means F....g and Killing.
On the theory, that once the public become imbeciles, they will be obedient imbeciles.
After a break for the killing during WWI, the Pack was back hammering on the Weimar Republic’s anvil. Rudolf von Laban, Wigman, Antonin Artaud, et j’en passe. I shall return to this topic shortly, and in greater detail, in reviewing Laure Gilbert’s recent book Danser le IIIème Reich (Ed. Complexe, 2000). Some of you will not be happy campers.
The Pack is most definitely alive, if one can call that life, and well, if one can call that well. Just this past June, at London, a "ballet" by the Berlin author Sasha Waltz, was on at the Barbican. Here is Ismene Brown’s report from The Telegraph (June 13th 2003)
"Bodies as disposable humans, drilling naked, and tortured by men in suits; bodies as parts-factories, with women pricing their organs for transplant or cosmetic surgery; bodies as resilient mechanisms, dancers fearlessly chucking themselves about with bone-crunching thuds. [Sasha Waltz] manipulates the audience, makes them wince, makes them clinical, makes them laugh, tests the point at which they recoil.
"Some sadistic sights - people being picked up by their skin. Can you bear to watch a man grab a naked woman’s breast and haul her whole weight up by it ?" (Ismene Brown, in TheTelegraph, June 13th 2003)
Le Jeune Homme et la Mort
After a break for further killing during World War II, the Pack turned up with Le Jeune Homme et la Mort.
To elaborate on what Cocteau was up to in Paris during the War would not be useful here.
However, mark well the year: 1946.
What with seventy million dead, the extermination camps, and Germany being bombed into the ground, one suspects that a more upbeat subject than a lad who hangs himself on stage on account of being ditched by a girl, might have been in order. Le Jeune Homme et la Vie, for example.
But no !
Le Jeune Homme et la Mort was composed by Roland Petit in 1946, on a libretto by Jean Cocteau.
Though its choreographic content was nil, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort became world-famous on account of Jean Babilée, one of the greatest technicians the ballet has ever known - although one might entertain some doubt as to his maturity and artistic judgment.
Whatever Cocteau and Roland Petit may have imagined, their message was Nihilism, a Frenchified, but nonetheless thoroughly Nietzschean "mind-country", where the likes of Saburo Teshigawara, Angelin Preljocaj, et al. were born.
Pina Bausch and Sasha Waltz get to skip the "Frenchified" bit. They are Nietzscheans tout court. While in Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart, what we have got, is the Salonfaehig side of the same clipped coin.
Anyone with a step-based approach to classical dance, where ideas are generated from within the dance-language itself, is swiftly hustled off to the Outer Hebrides.
Keep that social pressure from the Pack in mind, as you imagine some young fellow in the POB, toying with the idea of creating steps. He staggers downstairs in the morning to collect the newspapers. On opening a broadsheet, he finds, under the headline Montpellier Festival: Near Life Experience, a ballet that is a hymn to life, "that eternal orgasm", the saintly words of a habitué to the Garnier stage, one Angelin Preljocaj,
"I wanted to deal with ecstasy, those peripheral states one reaches when one loses consciousness, on fainting, or during orgasm: although the body is indeed taxed, the spirit flies away. What is ravishment but being ravished, that is, taken out of oneself". (In the Journal du dimanche, June 22nd 2003.)
At the same Montpellier Festival, that other chap who recently graced the Palais Garnier, Saburo Teshigawara, has hired the Montpellier Acting Animals Agency (sic), and brought up on the stage to dance cows, rams, rabbits, and other beasts. The article does not report what the beasts and the dancers did, together on that stage, perhaps we should be grateful, though it does have a photograph of what may be human beings, lightly-clad, and entangled in Some Sort of Act.
Owing to a strike by the "intermittents du spectacle", the Festival has now been cancelled. A blessing in disguise, perhaps.