Le Temps d’aimer festival in Biarritz
Saturday-Sunday, September 10-11
When you will go to Biarritz’s fall dance festival next September, you will be trying to run from place to place as fast as a thoroughbred. Be prepared: You will spend your time running around the town and its ‘burbs like a headless chicken unless you hire a limo, and even with a blessed limo you can’t be in two places at the same time.
For an article in French by Cléopold on the same shows, click here.
Saturday, September 10
14h on the esplanade Théâtre du Casino Municipal
Proyecto Larrua: Idi Begi
The entire piece seems to be taking place in slowed-down motion inside your head. Have you ever milked a cow? Felt the warm, silent, yet titanic weight of that flank as you rested your head against it? Those ten minutes feel completely out of time, just as this piece did.
Idi Begi means “ox eye.” Idi probak” means “pull bull,” a competition between farmers. A lot of Basque games – and this is Basque country — seem to be about skilful shows of force. I’d have called this perfectly formed 15 minute piece, one of the winners of the Artepean choreographer’s competition: “Agon.”
To the thunderous and then plaintive sounds of what seem to be pots and pans or maybe cowbells, a bent over and already worn duo with heavy hanging heads trot slowly as they submit to a dominator with a long stick.
Yet the downtrodden mood doesn’t feel violent or frightening, but uncertain and volatile instead. A stylized power struggle, played out through the weight and push and pull these three dancers give to their movements. The dominated tread along and slowly and painfully, yet as bodies intertwine you start to lose the sense of who is on top. Images of paintings of powerful peasants and beasts, the heavy and symbiotic lives they led together, flashed through my mind.
HORSES AND ROOSTERS AND BEES
Saturday, September 10, 9 p.m.
Théâtre du Casino Municipal
Companie Difé Kako
“Cercle égal demi-cercle au carré” [A circle equals a semi-circle squared]
In this increasingly mean and ugly world – where we talk at and not to each other, particularly when the issues at stake include colonialism, racism, and ageism — civilized discourse, friendly interchange, has become as rare as hens’ teeth. At this performance you witnessed the best kind of cross-pollination as a joyous swarm of colourful bees and dignified butterflies fluttered and stomped around each other in good and infectious cheer.
Welcome to Difé Kako [Things Will Get Hot] a joyously inclusive company of musician dancers of all colors (including pink) and all ages (from young adult to senior). And I mean inclusive: from the get-go the seated audience buzzed, tickled by the fact that after the performance they were invited to another venue where they could meet and dance with the entire company.
At first you are a bit bewildered by what is successively projected on the backdrop: squares (okay that’s part of the title), then ocean waves, then a tan rider galloping on a horse, then odd dated black and white footage of expressionless white men perfecting dressage. It all takes a while to sink in. But when a “caller” shouts out to her dancing “cavaliers” [one of the many words in Creole that you can easily figure out] you start to get it. Aha, not only ballet but the patterns of most old social dances took their inspiration from horses [the term “balletto” was originally coined during the Renaissance to describe intricate horseback parades]. To put it another way: in a past life you were probably either a slave or serf, but when you appropriate these European dances you, too, are as glorious as a knight in shining armor.
The dance varied back and forth in waves. The swooping and dignified quadrilles of the elders were mesmerizing. A quadrille with a caller…a square dance? Of course, that’s how it translates. Yet the first term evokes Marie-Antoinette while the second is Americanized. These church ladies’ casually dextrous use of their fans and the sloping angles of their necks took me straight back to the elegance of the ancien regime, too cool for barn-raisings. One particularly elegant man with jaunty tipped hat and a whisper of a smile wiggled in the lightest and the least emphatic of increments. You could see the energy reserved deep down below the surface, and that he was readied to dance all night. He stole my heart.
Alternatively –and even when the whole company fills the stage — the youth stomps and bops, play with every way to move from Ministry of Silly Walks stalks to hip swivels and wiggles, to two-steps or to gallops around the stage. They even tease each other by imitating the pecks only chickens use to check each other out.
Several members of the younger troupe of dancers meanwhile flowed back and forth from the dance floor to the bandstand house right where they’d join the percussionists and pick up a base, or a sailor’s concertina, or a wood/metal block or with maracas or fiddle. Song and words floated atop the air.
At one point, the ecstatic dance stops as the youths turn to stare at the screen and watch themselves dancing to the sound of a flute on a volcanic hillside in the Antilles.
Absolutely nothing matched, but everything in this patchwork (down to the chequered fabrics that somehow hung on to belts) seemed to be all the right ingredients you’d need for a savory stew. There are are words for “just throw it all it the pot and it will end up delicious” in every single language, after all.
It was marvellous to watch the audience stream out at the end, so much more buoyant than when it fussily trooped in. Now we were ready and willing to engage in conversation, and did. If you open your mind and heart to others you will live and learn. It’s never too late.
SHEEP, DOGS, AND HOOMANS
Sunday, September 11, 9 p.m.
Atabal (not exactly in the center of Biarritz)
Kukai Dantza “Et oran zer?”
Atabal, like the other suburb of Anglet where I had found “Tumulus” the day before, is kind of in the middle of nowhere outside the resort town of Biarritz. These new venues are quasi-impossible to get to on public transportation on a Sunday. Indeed the space used for this performance seemed to be nothing more than an industrial zone hangar, despite the raised stage area.
You panic about arriving late, worried about the “open seating” plan, then realize that both audience and performers are upright and scattered all over the place. Where is the vantage point where you could sit semi-comfortably on the floor or even lean exhausted by the day you’d just had against a wall? Nowhere. [About an hour in, this turned out to be clearly painful for a valiant elderly gent with a cane who I couldn’t take my eyes off of to the point of worrying about him rather than the dancers. He was a real trooper and survived].
“Eta oran zer”/”And what comes next?” or even “Now what?” turns out to be a roiling group of ten dancers and a plethora of ambulating musicians and their conductor who all couldn’t care less where the stage happens to be traditionally located. You are supposedly part of the performance, swivelling around to follow one dancer or the other from one spot to a palm-held illuminated spot, then unwittingly get encircled and swept into the center like sheep, then pushed back out to the edges of the dance floor.
During the hour and more than a half of Et Oran Zer, these dancers/border collies –gently, but with pre-planned determination and startlingly cold hands — forced the audience to be squared, circled, and divided.
You might catch and enjoy some energetic Basque references. A girl keeps repeating a Basque flurry of beaten jumps in whiplash fashion (the entrechat-six, among other steps, were integrated into Louis XIV’s new – the world’s first– vocabulary of ballet). Tours en l’air, also of Basque origin, proliferate. And then these hints of an ancient culture translated themselves into delicious hip-hops, crumps and slides. I was particularly taken by the scary intensity of the dancer who looks just like Keith Haring, sans the glasses.
Unlike last night with Difé Kako, however, tonight I didn’t feel included. Just getting pushed about, hither and yon, for no clear reason. And, alas, way too early into the thing we got pushed out of the centre and got to stand around in a circle and watch. Forty-five minutes of just standing around, clearly disinvited to the dance, became endless. Might as well provide seats, then, in the first place.
At several turns during this festival, you could run into troupes of Basque dancers, sometimes already bouncing on the plaza as you walked out of a venue. Each time, amateurs young and old would join the professionals and demonstrate an ingrained mastery of complex steps and patterns and exchanges. Unlike so many places where “folk dance is like so yesterday,” — Hungary included — here in the southwest of France these peasant dances remain a strong vector of identity, a part of everyday life. I envy how hopping up to the plate in your espadrilles has never stopped being an easy and normal thing that anchors you to a sense of communal and intergenerational identity. Look up some Basque dances and try them out in front of your mirror: it takes a will of steel to learn these deliciously complex steps and patterns. You gotta be born into it.
As for the music, I was instantly amused as I walked into the performance space only to catch tiny threads of “L’Arlesienne.” Bizet’s eponymous heroine is a mirage whom you will never see. And that seemed like a cool metaphor. But then the music moved on to a catchy melodic hodgepodge of folk-ish instruments like fiddle and flute and ambulating cello, a real score. Alas, the inventive live de-ambulating orchestra’s mesmerizing sound finally faded into in to the predictable beats of a recorded soundtrack about twenty minutes before the end.
Shatteringly loud house techno took over. I pulled back like a terrified mouse and crouched in a corner behind the amps, hoping to spare my ears. In any case, the audience had long been reduced to the usual status of immobile passive onlookers, gaping at dancers whirling in the centered spotlight. I peeked out and watched through the legs of the crowd of static onlookers. Not one amateur Basque dancer’s leg stepped out to join in.
When I walked out of that hangar, I was more panicked about finding the next bus back to town than hushed in reverie. After what I had just experienced, honestly, I felt as deflated and exhausted as a lab rat.