Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Contes rendus

Clip from beginning of dance

Alexandre de la Caffinière performed “Contes rendus” yesterday night. However, the simplicity of the name of the piece belies the complex emotions, stories, and actions that this dance piece offers.

The first word of the piece means “tale” or “story.” Quite simply, de la Caffinière’s piece is an autobiography of his life, told through the medium of dance. But the real complexity and intrigue lies in the second word of the title. “Rendus” is the past participle of the verb “rendre,” which can take on many different meanings. According to wordreference.com, “rendre” can mean: “to give back,” “to return,” “to repay,” “to pay back,” “to yield,” “to hand in,” “to pronounce,” etc. An interesting idiom is “rendre l’âme” or “rendre l’esprit” which means “to pass away.” The verb is inextricably linked to action and emotion.

De la Caffinière’s efforts do its title justice. He takes us through an expressive journey of action and emotion for a full fifty minutes. This impressive, exhaustive, and emotional feat makes the audience feel at once tired and exhilarated, happy, and sad. He begins his piece dressed as a janitor in a gray future-age jumpsuit, pushing around a rectangular mop which a large, long handle. It seems as if he has not begun dancing. But suddenly de la Caffinière begins to make subtle movements that develop into larger movements that could be identified as ballet or hip-hop inspired gestures. He uses the mop to reenact playing a guitar, dancing hip-hop, and being shot. But he silently returns to sweeping the floor. Angular, loud music emanates from behind him. It sounds like the music that Professor Applebaum would make from one of his sound sculptures. I can sense that this beginning part of the piece is actually the end part of his biography, and that the sense of time has been turned on its head. The dancer is reflective on his past life, and is constrained by his current job of janitorial work.

De la Caffinière continues to the next stage of the piece by escaping behind a row of white cloth suit bags. Behind the prop, he quickly strips down and initially appears nude. He uses the suit rack that holds the bags upright as a new prop to tease the audience with his body by sticking out body parts in a seductive manner. The nakedness of his body and the purity of color of the suit bags suggest that he has returned to a natal state.

At this point, I take a minute to appreciate the solidity and rawness of the dancer’s body. De la Caffinière has every muscle under control (he studied with the Paris ballet). I make a connection to the 19th French Art class that I am taking; I understand how Jacques-Louis David came to idolize the lines and figures of the human body. In my opinion, dance is an interesting medium that most people can relate to because in the end, we are all human. We all have (to varying degrees) similar arms, legs, faces, hair, toes, fingers, wrists, elbows, stomachs, etc.

De la Caffinière then takes us through his tormented journey of deciding whether or not to become a ballet dancer. He first begins with red ballet shoes. Twisting towards the shoes, the away, he creates an emotional and physical tension between his body and the object in front of him. The great inner conflict that de la Caffinière undergoes continues with a white tutu dress. Again we witness the emotional longing the dancer has for dance, but also his physical aversion. In the end, he pulls the tutu on impulsively, and I can feel a relaxation in tension from the audience and the dancer as well.

De la Caffinière brings us back full circle to his opening act with the mop, but not after going through several ballet stages, an acid trip, and a bout of depression. By the end, the audience is visibly exhausted because of the emotional magnitude of the piece. Interestingly, right before the piece ends, a vocal track from a movie appears amongst the music, in which a man proclaims the importance of the decision making process to create action, rather than the action itself. The decision to take a certain path in life is more important than the path itself. De la Caffinière’s piece definitely emphasizes the decision rather than the action resulting from the decision. At this moment, the sadness and regret that the audience feels for the janitor melts away, for the audience senses that the decision was agonizing but good, and that the dancer has experienced a full life.

Click on "Programme," then 26/27 January Alexandre de la Cafinière to read more abou the piece. In French.

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