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Parlez-vous la danse contemporaine?

The Theatre de la Ville, Paris's own City Theater, has presented challenging contemporary dance for three decades. A quartet of events there last fall gave the philosophical dancegoer plenty to ponder.

Paris is a city of philosophers. Theorizing is not a pastime, but a full-time preoccupation. (Eavesdrop at any cafe, Gitanes in hand.) So it was not surprising that three of the four contemporary dance events featured early on during the Theatre de la Ville's thirtieth-anniversary season threaded textual allusions into their choreographic movement, replacing music with the rhythm of the spoken word. Maguy Marin, of the state-funded Centre Choregraphique National de Creteil et de Val-de-Marne (November 11-15, 1997); Bernardo Montet from the Centre Choregraphique National de Rennes et de Bretagne (November 19-22); and the independent duo of Mathilde Monnier and Francois Verret (November 4-8, at the Theatre des Abbesses, the Theatre de la Ville's subsidiary performance space for the second season) found something to talk about. A second duo, Nathalie Pernette and Andreas Schmid, who perform as Compagnie Schmid-Pernette (November 18-22, at the Abbesses), presented what the program called a poeme danse, though they never spoke.

Taken together, these performances spread over the course of a single month offered a snapshot of currents in contemporary French dance. Further, they demonstrate the continued vitality of the Theatre de la Ville, whose dedication to the evolving world of dance remains steadfast.

Mathilde Monnier and Francois Verret, working together for the first time, were joined onstage by experimental musician Jean-Pierre Drouet in their choreographic interpretation of the poetry of Gherazim Luca, whose verses were once described by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as "stuttering to discover one's native tongue as if it were foreign." Qui Voyez-vous? ("Who Do You See?"), a premiere, begins with the pluck of a makeshift guitar (played by Drouet) echoed by the recitation of broken and repetitive phrases of poetry (spoken by Verret).

Slowly the two pass from painful collisions to a steadily pounding rhythm of hollow notes and stuttering sounds. The effect is mirrored by the hushed yet violent movements of Monnier, whose first solo of the evening brings her smashing alone onto the concrete floor, bouncing halfway up as if in midsentence, gesticulating until the completion of a phrase brings her to her feet. With makeshift, rudimentary instruments fabricated from hollow wooden tubes, taut strings, metal dishes, and plywood planks. Drouet creates a pulsating rhythm (when he isn't dancing alongside Monnier, that is) that drives the dancers to exhaustion. Scraping, scratching, stuttering, stammering, constructing and deconstructing, the movement onstage brings the essence of Luca's broken lyrics to an energetic whole, tying together movement and verse.

Stammering and spitting are also elements employed by Maguy Marin in her 1995 Ramdam ("Tumult"), which was performed in Paris for the first time during this engagement. In lieu of a sound track, the dancers are equipped with microphone headsets, which allow them to voice an original accompaniment of their own. In the finest haute couture frippery (the gentlemen in suits and leather shoes, the ladies in A-line plaid dresses and heels -- think Courreges, early sixties), Marin's company chuckles, whistles, hums, speaks, and grunts its way through solid, heavily syncopated steps and swirls. The a cappella cacophony of sounds, inspired by Samuel Beckett, is enhanced by political commentary about the Information Age, an ironic addition to the dancers' otherwise rhythmically predictable, happy-go-lucky movements. From simple hellos to critiques of French modern-day politics to sendups of the Duchess of York's shoes, Ramdam flits and floats through the absurdities of daily life with a critical smile.

While Monnier explored a poetic universe and Marin created poetry in motion, Bernardo Montet broke down the clarity of speech in his premiere, Isse Timosse. The audience is left in a partial stupor throughout the first half of the piece as he performs an eloquently executed solo to the beat of a twisted, Creole-tongued story written and recited onstage by French writer Pierre Guyotat. Only occasionally is a comprehensible word pronounced by Guyotat, provoking cries of frustration from the crowd as his text passes from a warbled tongue to one that spits out intelligible phrases, always making reference to the body, sensuality, or excrement.

The Vietnamese-Guyanese Montet, who grew up traveling back and forth between Chad and France, is later joined by Israeli dancer Tal Beit Halachmi, Nigerian Massidi Adiatou, and three members of the Ivory Coast dance troop N'Soleh (Blaise Kouakou, Marc Veh, and Clarisse Doukpe), all moving to an ethereal sound score by Michele Bokanowski which pierces and enraptures as it echoes boldly through the air. An unsettlingly intimate exploration of identity, Isse Timosse passes from violent explosions of energy expressed through the physical steps of African dance, to long, motionless moments of reflection.

Eschewing words, the duo of Nathalie Pernette and Andreas Schmid, who have been collaborating since 1989, brought their latest piece, Le Savon ("Soap"), to life on a fittingly rainy evening. During the opening minutes of the performance, the dancers (Schmid and Pernette joined by Isabelle Celer and Dominique Jegou) are met with nervous coughs in the crowd as they stand motionless and nude on the dimly lit stage, their bodies covered only by thin patches of blue powder, which flakes off as they move onto the otherwise gleaming white floor. Their movements begin slowly, as if caught in the profundity of the deep. From duet, to solo, to duet, they move among themselves like bubbles, clinging and fleeing in the ripples of the slow-moving waves.

They bathe, they scrub, they soak, they step, and they reflect in tubs of water -- sensually, gently, and brutally. Alongside bursts of robotlike movements and coupled-up serenity, Le Savon features a crisp sound track by Franck Gervais -- the clinking and clanging of boat masts in the breeze of a seaside port, the dripping of water into an empty tin bucket, the sounds of crows cawing in the wind. Compagnie Schmid-pernette soaks the crowd in their silent, aquatic poetry, giving people much to mull over as they disappear into the moisture of a rainy Paris night.
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Title Annotation:French trends in modern dance
Author:Bauer, Karyn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Words:1008
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