Curator’s Picks: 3 choreographers asking existential questions through movement

Curator’s Picks: 3 choreographers asking existential questions through movement

ALL ARTS programmer Annika Leybold shares highlights from the August schedule

Boxe Boxe

Choreographer Mourad Merzouki explores movement across disciplines with his group Compagnie Käfig. In “Boxe Boxe” — staged in Lyon, France, in 2010 — it’s between boxing, breakdance and contemporary movement. The Debussy String Quartet plays on stage alongside the dancers, and the classical repertoire brings out the grace in even the most confrontational steps.

I love how this piece opens. After illuminating the musicians, the lights reveal a boxing ring in the center of the stage. A red boxing glove appears, then another, then another… twitching rhythmically to each bowing of the strings. I can’t help but anthropomorphize them; they look like cute, little monsters in a whimsical relationship with one another.

Still from "Boxe Boxe."
Still from “Boxe Boxe.”

Eventually, we see the eight dancers attached to the boxing gloves, moving almost as one sinewy mass, with their flow punctuated by lifts in breakdance’s angular shapes. When they leave the ring, the true sparring begins, and we see the influence of Merzouki’s martial arts background. The piece concludes with a lone dancer who manages to breakdance mournfully — invoking a poetic, almost existential expression.

[Streams through Sept. 2]


Inanna

Still from "Inanna."
Still from “Inanna.”

Carolyn Carlson examines multifaceted femininity and plays with stereotypes in her 2005 work “Inanna,” named after the fertility goddess of the Sumerian pantheon. It opens with a femme fatale character monologuing about a woman who is “intelligent, but not too intelligent … perfumed and wearing makeup … who cleans.” Her speech ends: “I change, I change, I change.”

We see other characters — a joyful, bouncing dancer embodying the introspective innocence of youth; a severe-looking woman in a buttoned-up blazer who seems to come undone through gestural pop-and-lock movements before containing herself again; ghostly nude, masked bodies draped in fabric; and surreal figures holding doors with just their legs showing in a nod to cabaret sexuality.

Still from "Inanna."
Still from “Inanna.”

This sexuality is made weird and humiliating. Women wobble on high heels; they put grapefruits down their shirts and pants to create absurd caricatures of bodily perfection. The women reinvent themselves in many costume changes and are constantly betrayed by their clothes, self-consciously covering and revealing themselves.

In a poetic recording, a voice describes deeply human experiences — loneliness and the difficulty of un-armoring the heart, of “dying of love yet not taking it,” and the fragility and quickness of life. The voice says: “Inanna was one of the suffering and the illuminating, standing in a circle that you are always in, in a sacred place.”

[Airs on broadcast Aug. 10 at 10 p.m. and streams for a month.]

Act Without Words

Still from "Act Without Words."
Still from “Act Without Words.”

French modern dance choreographer Dominique Dupuy brings physical and intellectual acrobatics to Samuel Beckett’s one-man pantomime “Act Without Words.” The first half of the performance is a more traditional interpretation of Beckett’s play — solo dancer Tsirihaka Harrivel encounters absurd objects and is driven by Pavlovian whistles. He does headstands then falls directly onto his back from a standing position, enacting two very different types of control. In this world of authoritarian surreality, there’s deep significance to an introspective moment of Harrivel simply turning over his hands and looking at them.

The second half begins with Dupuy replacing Harrivel on stage in what I interpreted as a continuous character aging from a young man to an elder. The choreographer sits on a box and makes lyrical gestures: he draws a handkerchief from his pocket, taps his foot and raises his eyebrows beseechingly at the audience. He has a mime’s honesty, and it’s all very French.

Still from "Act Without Words."
Still from “Act Without Words.”

Cubes appear from the ceiling, and he strives to balance them off one another at an angle. When that doesn’t work, he does a little waltz with the box, acknowledging the futility of his task. A rope drops from the ceiling, and he pulls, and pulls, and pulls — not going up and not bringing anything toward him. At various points throughout the piece, Dupuy whispers slowly, almost guiltily. Sometimes he trails off, but often he is silenced by a whistle. It is the “Act Without Words,” after all.

[Airs on broadcast Aug. 17 at 8:30 p.m. and streams for a month.]


Find a full schedule of what’s airing on the ALL ARTS broadcast channel here. You can also stream a trove of ALL ARTS content for free on our website and app