Black Out: Exquisite Dance Meets Performance Art

Nélida Nassar  04.25.2014

Dynamic graffiti, damaged human feelings, a planet at the mercy of myopic industrialization – all this presented in Black Out. The performance evokes a strong sense of unexpected loss, examining the fragility of existence as well as the serendipitous quality of life. Black Out is the creation of Algerian-born Swiss choreographer and visual artist Philippe Saire, who says he seeks to: “contemplate the randomness of mortality in a world of disease,epidemics, genocide and senseless violence.”

Guided to the semi-dark stage, where forty-eight viewers at a time surround and lean over a constructed black box of 5 meters by 5 meters square with a height of 2,5 meters
gazing down to where the performance takes place. The box lighting is opalescent white. The beautiful bodies of Philippe Chosson, Maëlle Desclaux, and Jonathan Schatz, in simple swimsuits and bare feet, are sunbathing, each on a patterned black and white towel with their hands draped over their faces.

Stéphane Vecchione’s sound improvisation offers faint, repetitive tickings, while the barely moving Chosson scratches her fingers against the floor. The white stage contrasts with meticulously piled rubber pellets, one imagines of childhood’s sandy beaches. The dancers make minimal gestures without ever colliding, touching or looking at each other, while a New Orleans-inspired funeral fanfare is heard nearby before it gradually fades away to be replaced by other, less musical sounds.

Unexpectedly, the dancers begin a frenzied motion as thousands of black granulated fragments drop, transforming their world into a moving, pictorial composition, which jars the spectators as it shifts in response to light, sound, and the dancers’ movements. There is a sense of oppression, of imminent disaster, as if at the bottom of the pit the dancers might eventually disappear under the hostile material falling intermittently from the ceiling.

We next see two artists and a model, or is it a murder scene? Fearfully, Desclaux races and bangs herself against the walls until she falls on the black rubber pellets that soon start taking on a variety of a human form. Chausson and Schatz dab and sweep the pellets above and around her. They circle the floor as if it was a canvas, as if the drawing flowed from the motion of their bodies, accumulating the debris of their lives. The drawing is at once palpable, fluid, and transparent to the glaring light. The fragile and hasty creations are a response to today’s mass media. Their dancing also produces pictograms that are drawn in a single continuous brush stroke. These signs are abbreviations for a human body. They also evoke geometrical symbols – spirals, waves and parallel streaks.

Saire likes to create a feeling of discomfort while testing the limits of the viewer. The situation worsens as Desclaux, lying prone and hooded, disappears under a mountain of shoveled rubber particles. Dancers Chosson and Schartz are Shakespearean gravediggers, who, once their task is accomplished, celebrate in a strange dance, slow and restrained. Saire, however, attempts to avoid despondency, so when the dancers have donned body suits and black hoods he gives us a Balkan-type fanfare, fairground music. The effect is strange, and the sound seems to evoke distant memories of happiness.  Desclaux starts moving again, and a few tiny lights illuminate the floor reminding us of the sky, of dreams and, perhaps, an optimistic outcome. The audience remains silent, holding its breath, until it finally releases a few sighs.

Although he offers the audience a solid dramaturgical framework and a well-constructed narrative, Saire gives priority to his graphic and drawing preoccupations. When the gestures multiply, one has to stand back literally to distinguish the figurative shapes among the mass of abstract signs. His vocabulary borrows widely from Aboriginal art, Keith Haring, Pierre Soulages, Francisco Goya and Jackson Pollock. If the initial response to this dance and to these hieroglyphs of oppression, desire, violence, and death may be to admire the prodigious skills with which Saire and his dancers choreographed Black Out, a much less aesthetic response follows — emotional, moral and, for some, surely, political. Saire has achieved his aim.

Presented during BIPOD Beirut International Platform of Dance 10th Anniversary 

Choreography: Philippe Saire in collaboration with the performers
Philippe Chosson, Maëlle Desclaux, Jonathan Schatz / Benjamin Kahn
Dramaturgy: Roberto Fratini Serafide
Lighting: Yan Godat
Set & Lighting Consultants: Sylvie Kleiber et Laurent Junod
Sound: Stéphane Vecchione
Costumes: Tania D’Ambrogio
Stage Management: Yann Serez

 

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