Last night I saw Peeping Tom's dance theatre performance, '32 rue Vandenbranden' which was put on as part of the Paris quartier d’été festival. This month-long festival brings touring works to different quartiers in Paris. I saw William Kentridge’s ‘Against the Hour’ (marvelous) and last night this remarkable piece of dance theatre from a company based in Brussels.
To call it dance theatre might give the wrong impression – it’s contemporary dance, yes, but much of the body work is aligned with the kind of contortion/gymnastic work you see in contemporary circus, fiercely – violently – physical. The strength and discipline required for this kind of movement is juxtaposed against a narrative which explores human fragility.
From the beginning scene we’re plunged into the contradictory emotional landscape which we all inhabit but to which we rarely confess. With the barest dialogue, the performers revealed the ordinary, messy lives we live. A couple court in a sexually passionate pas de deux but the tenderness is edged with hostility. Two Beckettian strangers arrive in the snow-driven landscape and despite their vulnerability expressed through clowning dance, they are met with suspicion and rejection. A man offers a woman everything he has, piles it into her arms, and she retreats, shutting the door on his hopeful face. In an extraordinary scene, a performer’s display of narcissistic masturbation is hilariously interrupted by three skiers who wave. Humour interrupts and emphasises pathos.
The piece becomes more and more chilling – a pas de deux plays out the powerlessness of an abused woman – she is complicit, yielding, her body like plastic, as her partner dances her around the stage holding her by her neck. I could hardly bear to watch it, even though I knew it was performed. In an earlier dance, the same man had carried this woman almost as though she were a necessary appendage; a loving, but onerous, burden he couldn’t ̶ or wouldn’t ̶ surrender.
The staging was wonderful – the wintry landscape, the rickety caravan and portables, isolated and temporary, were used beautifully. All the performers were nearly always visible making the audience voyeurs, as we watched them wash, brush their hair, fight and sing karaoke. Props were minimal but effective – a curtain became a wedding veil, a scarf, blood, and it rained inside an umbrella.
What I love about this kind of art – whatever form it takes – is it that it strips us of all that we use for our safe cocoons. The window dressing, the armour, is taken away.
There is a poetry exercise I set – I ask students to pick a word, a polysyllabic word with some weight. They have to feel something about the word, look up the definition, and then list the words contained it. From this list, they pick words that resonate with them and move to writing a piece that refers back, always, to the original word. It’s a great writing exercise because it allows those layers of exploration.
Today, inspired by this performance, I pick the word revelation.
At the end the performers deservedly took about five curtain calls and we walked away gob-smacked. I was so delighted to have seen it in company as well - I was with an American woman I'd met at the laundry at the Cite (see, washing can be fun!) and her husband who is staying here. I'm always lucky with the people I meet by chance - the Dowds were perfect company; perceptive, thoughtful and generous. Check out Douglas's webiste and discover the world of reportage drawing, a new term for me, and if you look at his blog, scroll down to the entry 'Like, Illustrated Grammar'. Lori is Executive Producer of StoryTrack, a media production company. If you check out their home page, make sure you read the part about 'Storytrack Giving Back'. More small businesses need to do this.