Carmen/Shakespear – Olga Mesa
The bugle resounds. On stage, Olga Mesa adjusts the projectors. Then, as we listen to the chorus Avec la Garde montante from Bizet's Carmen, she undresses behind a projection screen and returns to the front, equipped only with a fan, which naturally is not enough to cover her.
Daring to expose yourself in this way, naked before an audience, daring to sing opera when you are not a professional singer, daring to simultaneously take on the two behemoths that are the story of Carmen and the Shakespeare’s Sonnets – that is true audacity!
Of course a dancer takes risks onstage. But there is one they avoid taking: that of ridicule, even feigned. Dance, traditional or modern, seldom has contact with the burlesque. Performance art, on the other hand, takes it on and often even seeks it out. This “act for art” aims to destabilise: the artist himself, the spectator, and the society around it.
Let's go back one century. To the then futuristic evenings at the Cabaret Voltaire, hosted by the DADA. Determined to challenge the traditional idea of the performance and the objet d'art lost to commercialisation, a group of artists invented new forms, explored the burlesque and were capable of self-mockery. It was undoubtedly there that performance art was born.
In the mid-1920s, Valeska Gert presented provocative solos in a cabaret in Berlin in which she played marginal characters. These very short pieces are, in fact, expressive pantomimes where mimicry, highlighted by make-up, is as important as the gestures.
Valeska Gert used the themes she addressed to confront middle-class moralities and their hypocrisy. She defied both the idealistic values of academic dance and the tradition of the delicate, graceful ballerina.
My lunch with Anna – Alain Buffard
From the end of the 1940s, Anna Halprin brought together artists from all disciplines in her studio: architects, visual artists, musicians, poets and dancers. Seeking to free movement she used improvisation and became increasingly interested in ordinary gestures. The artists in her studio were invited to carry out everyday tasks and to become aware of the movements, which their bodies made to carry them out. For Anna Halprin, being constrained by instructions and having to carry out a task prevented her from resting on her laurels and from surrendering to the supposedly artistic, subjective desire for expression. After working like this on the process of creating movement, scores were developed for performance.
Carnation - Lucinda Childs
In 1964, Lucinda Childs, 24, presented Carnation at the Judson Church. She embodied, with humour, two stereotypes of the representation of the feminine: the woman anxious to please and the housewife. Her gestures were simple but amplified and executed extremely meticulously. Their slowness, the precision and the ceremonial nature of the posture, the surrounding silence, the attention given to the choice of the objects and their placement, all contributed to giving this incongruous piece the solemnity of a ritual. It was the contrast between the trivial nature of the objects and the seriousness with which they were handled which gave the performance's burlesque dimension.
Break – Meredith Monk
Meredith Monk today defines her work as “visual and oral performance poetry”. For her, the fundamental element is the voice, with which she seeks to “rediscover the essential, primal power”.
She created Break in 1964 when she was also a member of the Judson Dance Theater. Break makes us see and understand silence: feet and hands strike the ground, then the roar of the machines gives way to silent screams where the face shows the scream without anything being heard, like a film in which the sound has been cut. What you hear doesn’t always fit what you see and, moreover, each perceived element appears to be the fragment of something vaster which you cannot access.
GUSTAVIA - Mathilde Monnier and La Ribot
Gustavia is a burlesque duet, the result of the collaboration between Mathilde Monnier and La Ribot. Wearing identical costumes and hairstyles, they look like fraternal twins and act out a comedy of repetition and accidents. Composed as a series of sketches, the piece links whining, fake stripteases, physical combat and verbal jousting, more or less failed acrobatics and therefore falls.
The piece leaves room for improvisation. Playing rivalry as complicity, the two dancers sometimes surprise each other, introduce discrepancies and destabilize one another. The perfectly oiled mechanics of this staging of failure gives way, for a brief moment, to a real fragility.
Does Gustavia evoke a multifaceted woman or a multitude of different women? In any case, it raises the question of the game we play, for ourselves or for others, in life or onstage.
La Chance - Loïc Touzé
This “reversal of incompetence and competence” also characterizes Ondine Cloez's solo in La Chance by Loïc Touzé: contrasting with the speed, virtuosity and ethereal vocalisations of Maria Callas' singing, the dancer moves heavily to the front of the stage, her head sinking into her shoulders, her face powdered; she squints, looks confused, falls backwards… This version of the burlesque unsettles more than it amuses, because of the animality and the fear we see in the gestures and the face of the dancer in front of us.
To unlearn, to accept not being able to master everything, to be vulnerable, to expose themselves to the risk of appearing inefficient and in doing that, even more importantly, to discover unexplored territories within yourself… By making these choices, choreographers like Loïc Touzé know that they are creating performance art.
Adieu et merci - Latifa Laâbissi
Is that a man or a woman? Why is it acting like a ghost? Is it possessed? Watching Adieu et merci, the spectator asks themselves many questions. In particular, they wonder what kind of performance they are watching, what they should make of it. Latifa Laâbissi, who worked with Loïc Touzé for many years, blurs the boundaries between dance and performance art, spectacle and installation1. She also blurs the boundaries of the portrayal of gender by wearing a beard. Reflecting on sexual or “national” identity, her work often evokes embarrassment in the spectator. Is this because she dares to be grotesque by grimacing and by contorting herself, because she seems to take a perverse pleasure in making herself ugly? We have the feeling, watching her performances, that something is being reflected back onto us. The fact that she deals with issues of colonial heritage is surely not irrelevant here…
1 In Adieu et merci, the moving stage curtain is not merely a prop, it is a real partner for Latifa Laâbissi. The show was created in collaboration with the visual artist Nadia Lauro.