« Eh bien dansez, maintenant! ». Toulouse. Ballet du Capitole. Saturday, June 27th.
“The fever called ‘Living’/ Is conquered at last.”
As Johan Inger’s “Walking Mad” began, I suddenly recalled an old cartoon. A sage, replete with toga and sandals, points his staff at an X in the corner of the map of a university philosophy department. The caption asks: “why are you here?”
Demian Vargas, trench-coated and bowler-hatted, wandering near the front row, has clearly lost his map. This Magritte-like apparition soon clambers up on to the stage as Ravel’s unsettling “Bolero” begins. We — and a company of beings seemingly even more feverish and seemingly more broken –will seek the answer together.
Out of the dark depths of the stage, an evil and fleet-footed protean wall sneaks up on him. As does a vision in white, Solène Monnereau, who makes concentrating on scooping up the limp T- shirts littering the floor a Bauschian moment. Briefly distracted by our hapless intruder, she lets herself be scooped up by the deft Valerio Mangianti. The mere touch (and then real power) of Mangianti’s hovering arms cannot be resisted. Why is his persona wearing a house dress? I leave it you to figure out, but the dress does let you see how deeply his movements are rooted in the ground and spiral up from a sure place.
The wall keeps flapping around, rolling, falling, re-configuring itself, dextrously manipulated from behind. To be banged on, clung to, slipped around, grasped, almost scaled, resisting all attempts to breech it.
Sooner or later, you arrive at one certainty: being alive is not meant for the faint-hearted. It gives you fever. Our guy, now divested of his trench-coat – and many bowler hats will now flow through the hands of his new posse – has either found his way to insane people or to a world of his own feverish imagination. This condition is often surprisingly jolly Inger’s kinetic choreography keeps playing sly switches on your expectations of “what should come next.”
Indeed, this bitter-sweet ballet is full of fun surpises. Inger’s vocabulary clearly developed while devoting his own body to Kylian’s world. Lurch your mid and upper-body forward and a partner will grab you under the arms and swoop you around in grande seconde plié. He also makes deft use of Forsythe’s – “pick a card, any card” [i.e. any part of the body] free-style. Push off of or onto any point of an opposing body, including your own, and see where you end up. But these moments come an go. Nothing here feels derivative or predicable or old hat.
The group dons pointy noses, and also nurse them atop their heads. More lost laundry and more fevered figures come and go, each finding a new way to be annoyed by the amorphous wall. Matthew Astley, both goofy and pure of line, attacks each step as if dance had been invented by Beckett. Julie Loria – restless to her fingertips — in a red tremble, sets the guys atremble too. You want to both laugh and cry, then, when Loria slaps herself into the corner of the wall (now a pointy imploding wedge) and tries to pull her own shadows back into her orbit.
That wall means everything and nothing. We are all mad or being alive means being mad. You have choices to make. Will you accept life in the form of a madhouse or a funhouse? Do you want to go it alone or dare to try to pull another into your body and mind?
But, alas, there’s more. And this has been bothering me. Boléro, especially as stopped and restarted here in very unexpected ways, can cover about 15 to even 25 perfect minutes. Inger, and the dancers of Toulouse, made this musical warhorse seem fresh and new and pure and precisely as weirdly logical and illogical as it should be. Why did he have to add an appendix?
“All that we see or seem /Is but a dream within a dream.”
For his finale — a so sad and sobering, utterly unfunny and intense duet of irresolution – Inger could have even used another overused stalwart: silence. Alas, no.
Instead, way back in 2001, he fell on one of Arvo Pärt’s throbbing and repetitive scores, which have rapidly become even more of a dance world cliché than Boléro. At this point, someone needs to lock them up in a wall-safe.
Ravel’s Bolero repeats itself — and how! – but, especially as teased apart as in the soundscape for the first part of the ballet, it launched the dancers on a crazy journey. Pärt’s music just sits in place and goes nowhere. Given Inger’s intelligence in constructing the giddily vivid first part. I am sure he intended to sober us up, to make us feel as trapped as Juliette Thélin and Demian Vargas. This pas de deux further distills the desperate need to escape over that wall. These two worked their bodies into tender and somber places and chiseled away at each moment. Simply holding out a coat to the other, a tiny crick of the neck, epitomized how small gestures can be enormous. They sucked the audience down into their vortex of a dream within a dream. Despite my irritation with the music, I was gulled too. This expressive, expressionistic, parable of “alone-together” reminded me of Gertrude Stein’s purported last words: “What is the answer?” The room stared at her. Silence She picked up on that. “Then, what is the question?”
“Keeping time, time, time./In a sort of Runic rhyme,/To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells/from the bells, bells, bells.”
Maybe singing and dancing and banging on something are the answer after all, according to Mauro Bigonzetti’s Cantata.
Instead of a moving wall, here we had an ambulating wall of oaky and resonant sound provided by the powerful voices and bodies of the Southern Italian musical collective ASSURD. Weaving in and out amongst the dancers on stage, the singers’ voices and instruments cried, yelled, lullaby-ed, coaxed, spat, spangled. And, along with the dancers, managed indeed to help us understand why we needed to be here, in Toulouse.
At first, you kind of go: uh, oh. Chorale singing, an accordion being squeezed onstage by a small and loud barefoot woman, women dancers who twist alone and twitch if lifted. Back on the ground, they return to poses that make them look like arthritic trees that died from thirst. After a bunch of men dump them in a pile atop each other, the women continue to squirm, bite their hands, and put fingers in their mouths to pull at the skin of their faces. Ah, got it, Southern Italy. Tarantula bites. Means more madness, eh? But these gestures – just at the moment when I went “uh oh” yet one more time – continued down a Forsythian path, setting off major locomotion.
The tammurriata and tammorra, like Ariadne’s thread, will lead our dancers back to the world of the living. Honey, the tinkly “tambourine,” as we know it from Balanchine, Mère Simone, and Bob Dylan, has nothing to do with the Kodo-ish propulsion of these gigantic hand-held objects. The rhythms are strict, not shimmied or approximate, nor is the dance. And what a fun sound to try to use your body to interpret! Do a conga line bent over on your knees: march forward with your elbows hitting the ground like feet, chin in hand, then slap the floor with your palms. Feel your weight. Now we’re going somewhere.
Here couples don’t yearn to scale any wall, they merely try to rise above any limits and then return to stamp at the soil of the earth. Women step all over men’s recumbent bodies, and evolve from being manipulated to being manipulators. Arms reject swanny elegance: chicken wings preferred. A black-widow sunflower, Beatrice Carbone, all curled arms and cupped fingers, distances herself from the crowd. A duet: hands hit together, or try to. Dancers repeatedly find calm by taking the hands of others and brushing them over their faces. Avetik Karapetyan continues to remind me of the explosive and expressive Gary Chryst of the Joffrey. Maria Gutierez shimmies and shines in a new way every time I see her. The action transforms itself into a raucous and joyous frenzy.
At the very end, the company blows us a kiss. And you want to stay right here.
Why Toulouse? Kader Belarbi’s company of individuals, and the opportunities his keenly-chosen repertory gives them, provides the best answer of all.