Dream and Poetry in “Corps Etrangers”: A Cosmos of Experimental Male Dance

Nélida Nassar   01. 15. 2014  

Choreography: Stephanie Thiers
Dancers: Fabien Almakiewicz, Valentini Rocamor i Tora
Acrobats: Mathieu Antajan, Tim Behren and Florian Patschovsky
Music: Emmanuelle Gibello

“Corps Etrangers”(Stranged Bodies), presented by the German-French dance collective Mouvoir and choreographed by Stephanie Thiers, launches the Beirut International Platform for Dance’s (BIPOD) 10th anniversary celebration. On stage for two consecutive evenings at Masrah al-Madina, it features only male performers, the dancers Fabien Almakiewicz and Valentini Rocamor i Tora, and the acrobats Mathieu Antajan, Tim Behren, and Florian Patschovsky.

Choreographer Thiers sets out to explore, through a dance montage of four tableaux vivants, four personal questions which, as the work proceeds, appear to transcend the personal dimension to become collective: “What does it mean to be modern?” “Small errors concerning the disenchantment of the world”, “We have never been modern”, and “Final examinations”. The result is entirely interconnected, an interplay between a talented ensemble of two dancers and three acrobats, combined with brilliant staging and music, seems to reveal what human element remains in the face of a threatening, anarchic environment and the disappearance of civilization. In other words, the show probes what happens when human social conditioning is abandoned in favor of animal practices and the overthrow of cultural norms and conventions. But it also seeks to raise the issue of how we evolve as a community – how our actions and decisions are shaped by nature and by the people around us.

Music and movement here are perfectly balanced: each informing and enhancing the other. Both have a distinctive language – Emmanuelle Gibello’s other-worldly score, filled with striking harmonies, strong percussion and electro-acoustical sounds, interweaves wild animals roars and buzzing insect, and, to top it all off, is infused with Indian, shamanistic and tribal influences. The music emerges from the left side of the stage, looming out the dancers make tight, sharp, disconnected,  jerky movements, or as in the opening scene, a dancer lies across the stage, his face buried and obscured by a vortex of ropes. At times two performers collide and cling; bodies intersect in unlikely places, contorting one another into strange, flexible shapes to create a single figure, a shambling four-legged creature hopping ponderously across the stage.

Dancers and acrobats engage the audience with an intense scrutiny. The dance focus on the arms and hands – linked in repetitive actions that have a ritualistic, sometimes mechanical feel to them.  A series of visually stunning blends of circus acrobatics and dance where – the acrobats twirl gracefully from three ropes hanging from the stage ceiling – is arresting. The result is complex, layered and often playful – absorbing and rewarding to watch. Occasionally I yearned for less flow and variety – but the use of a dozen props and masks that glimmer and move almost in slow motion is compelling, as is the metal form that alternates between being a hat or skirt. The props are bright slivers of movement and shine amid the stage activity – reminiscent of Surrealist and Dadaism imagery from Max Ernst to Salvador Dali and Ubu Roi.

Central to this meditative, engrossing production is the lighting, set high up near the ceiling: it is transformed from clinical whiteness in the second act, “Small errors concerning the disenchantment of the world,” to warm yellow shade in the third act, “We have never been modern,” suggestive of bonfires or fierce and uncontrollable fire that has us at its mercy. The dazzling, sometimes blinding elemental backdrop brings a particularly German sensibility to the stage – a reminder of our inability to control nature, of our essential fragility in its face.

The performance, essentially a series of visual statements about humanity saved from civilization and basking in a moment of anarchy, is shot through with satire and a sharp sense of humour– not least in “Final Examinations”, the fourth section about religion and with a sequence about sex. It’s well performed, and at times irreverently insightful; while it contrasts with the dancing, and acrobatics, the acting also perhaps tends to over-explain it.

But I would have happily watched this exciting new work all over again. Not least because its length is just right: precisely 90 minutes. It submerges you in its disenchanted universe completely but leaves you with plenty to ponder.

BIPOD’s 10th anniversary continues until January 15 with the opening of Maqamat Dance Theatre’s “Watadour” at Masrah al-Madina.

2 thoughts on “Dream and Poetry in “Corps Etrangers”: A Cosmos of Experimental Male Dance

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