The wind howls on a hill top, the rain beats down violently and with malice. This is a night of terror, revenge and manifestations. Hundreds of stone slabs stand together battling the elements, soldiers of remembrance.
A solitary Raven watches over this battalion. He never moves, never blinks, just watches. One grave tonight attracts his attention, for the past few hours on this wind whipped and rain soaked German mountain the ground has been stirring, someone is escaping. The dirt has shifted; the roses, which are laid there daily by adoring fans, have been pushed aside
A hand of the most abject horror punches the air. Bone exposed, flesh which is maggot and beetle eaten. In a few quick minutes this corpse, this waif of the deep sleep walks slowly but steadily down the hill. What is left of her famous hair whips in the wind, dancing over the stones of other dead ones.
She heads over the border.
Ever watched Eurovision and thought that the presenters were kind of funny but also slightly off? Missing that Je ne sais quoi? But none the less you remain transfixed, watching the awkward, cringey moments unfold. Did they actually just do that?
Well this was I felt the whole way through Compagnie DCA/ Philippe Decouflé’s Contact. To understand Decouflé’s work one needs to read the programme – only then does it make some sort of sense.
Ok so he has spent many a night youtubing David Lynch, Old Hollywood movies and 1980’s pop culture. He’s a bit of a magpie, he idolises.
One Queen he worships in particular…
Pina Bausch, the German Boudicca of Tanztheater. Decouflé cites her 1978 piece Kontatkhof as one of the main influences for creating the piece. Her elegance and flair for strange timing had him enthralled apparently.
This I fear Decouflé, mon’ami. Is the downfall for the piece.
Don’t get me wrong I love fantasy, the beauty of transformations, the magic of the picaresque and that strange liminal place between reality and the uncanny. But if you are going to play with that glitter you can do one of two things: you swallow it and fully digest it, or you throw it in the wind and watch it shine as you walk away.
What I’m really trying to say is if you are going to be inspired by a particular artist, a pioneer, an artist who is so well known, then you should know what makes them tick, really tick. Not just be wet about it. And not in an irreverent way. Perhaps that would have made for a more interesting show? Do irreverence to the extreme? Not just play at it. Not play dress up?
This was what I thought throughout the whole show. Without an interval I sat there for 1 hour and 45 minutes. It felt like 4 hours. It felt safe, like Daily Mail safe. There were no moments of complete transcendence for the audience or the performers. Carefully managed and carefully staged but with a semi rock and roll, Berlin cabaret style vibe.
Surrealism can be a funny one; can you do it well without having the cliché geometric images, juxtapositions of colours and trippy music? Surrealism I feel works well when there is refusal, the refusal of the order which ensnares us to mediocrity. You can’t pretend that.
Confusing scenes, with a barely there Faustian narrative running through became slightly amusing. Faust was played by a six foot something gangly man who was actually funny and at times had a I don’t really give a fuck attitude which was a refreshing contrast to the serious, ‘dancer as comedian’ relationships which were unfolding around him. There was some quite nice Cunningham style dancing which I appreciated (another artist who picaresque describes as a ‘great master’).
And do we need men in dresses and high heels to make something surreal and quirky in dance? Oh and better yet a black man? One member of the ensemble, Sean Patrick Mombruno, who stands at 6ft 3, only appeared scantily clad, either in a gimp costume, or wearing 6 inch stilettos and a blonde wig a la Rupaul. Playing the oh so common sassy femme character in a field of white Europeans. I try not to take myself seriously, especially in London. But perpetuating stereotypes for the predominately white middle class audience made me wanna give Decouflé an Eastenders style slap. It felt a bit cheap and offensive.
It was the simple moments which shone in this piece, flashes that weren’t overly produced. No X Factor style costumes or distracting camera projections which embellished the mediocrity of the staging. Instead it was the moments of real complicity, when action and intention collided in such a magical way.
Leaving Sadler’s I really questioned how work is shown and produced on such an international scale. Does funding, space and recognition hinder a choreographer’s practice? Or does it make them invincible?
Choreography : Philippe Decouflé
Dancers/Musicians : Christophe Salengro, Alice Roland, Clemence Galliard, Eric Martin, Stephane Chivot, Falvien Bernezet, Sean Patrick Mombruno, Meritxell Checa Estaban , Violette Wanty , Julien Ferranti, Ioannis Michos, Lisa Robert, Suzzane Solar
Scenography: Jean Rabasse
Costumes: Laurence Chalou
Production: Compagnie DCA/Philippe Decouflé