Gravity? What’s that?

A body, a wall and a visual dialogue that defied traditional ideas of dance

April 17, 2014 08:33 pm | Updated May 21, 2016 11:51 am IST - chennai:

On the wall at the Alliance Francaise’s three-part Danse Dialogues.

On the wall at the Alliance Francaise’s three-part Danse Dialogues.

Against a giant, white 66-feet wall, a distant female figure writhes and curves seemingly in free fall. The effect is surreal, moving and sometimes disturbing. Cette Immense Intimite (This Huge Intimacy), performed on April 16 at Buddha Garden in Express Avenue, is one of the most modernistic and experimental dance performances to come to the city in a while.

Projected on the wall is the dancer’s own image, like her shadow, but with a mind of its own that’s often at cross-purposes, creating a sense of visual shock and conflict. Olivia Cubero’s movements are languid, graceful, almost somnambulant, but the images and light effects that are projected live on the wall are jarring, disquieting and seem to represent a dystopia of sorts. In one section especially when swirls of black strokes slowly take over the white space, it is almost as if some malevolent, formless spirit is invading the dancer.

Cette Immense Intimite, the last show of Alliance Francaise’s three-part Danse Dialogues festival of Indo-French Contemporary Dance, makes a dramatic finale. If anything, I wondered why something so significant would be quite so short. It lasted only about 25 minutes, and even if we understand the physical exertion involved, it seemed a pity that a performance that’s part of a festival and that must have taken an incredible amount of time to mount would be presented almost like a teaser than a full-fledged work.

That said, the 25 minutes were a fabulous experience. Produced by Compagnie Retouramont, which experiments with vertical dance and public spaces in some of its most challenging aspects, the show was equally about the technical support. The dancer is suspended on an elastic cord and a complex arrangement of ropes and pulleys supports her movements, a massive logistical effort mounted by Fabrice Guillot, who travelled with 50 kilos of equipment. The performance used the Méta-Mallette software to project the live images that served as almost-narration.

By mixing up technology, sound, light, and movement, this post-modern piece was, intriguingly, art at many levels — of course, contemporary dance at the simplest level, but also a gymnastic display, a public installation, a showcase of the aesthetics of technology, of music visualised, or a celebration of architecture itself. In all their works, Compagnie Retouramont challenge the traditional ways of understanding gravity, architecture, material, urban spaces, images and sounds. Your perspective is constantly provoked — what you are watching could after all be simply an aerial view of a traditional performance where the wall is the proscenium stage and the dancer is facing an imaginary audience on the lateral wall.

What was missing was information. When something so different is presented, it makes sense to tell the audience the complexities involved — the wall, the ropes, the technology used, the techniques borrowed from rock-climbing. Telling the back story is often the best introduction to a new work.

What I liked most was that the venue was a public space. Globally, art is slowly being freed from the confines of elitist galleries, and such performances go a long way towards taking art back to the people.

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