Boris Charmatz: manger

Posted: May 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Boris Charmatz: manger

Boris Charmatz / Musée de la danse, manger, Sadler’s Wells, May 20

The setting of Boris Charmatz's manger (photo: Ursula Kaufmann)

The setting of Boris Charmatz’s manger (photo: Ursula Kaufmann)

That Boris Charmatz has based his choreographic research in manger on the mouth and its functions is not as inhibiting as might at first appear. From the mouth issue words and song and the mouth is the entrance to the alimentary canal that affects swallowing, digesting, excreting and any ailments associated with their functioning. In other words there is plenty of scope for creative development and Charmatz seems to relish the possibilities, both physical and conceptual: “Creation, as I now see it, is increasingly tending towards a form of disappearance: treating food in terms of swallowing it, blotting it out.” What we actually see, however, is the physical manifestation of the eating process and the only item on the menu is rice paper — reams of it.

Charmatz has reduced the boundaries of the main theatre at Sadler’s Wells to the stage itself, divided from the auditorium by the safety curtain. We are seated on four sides of the stage that allows an intimacy a proscenium arrangement would not have allowed: digestion is, after all, an intimate act. The dancers arrive from the ranks of the audience informally dressed, distinguished only by the sheaf of rice paper in their hands. Dotted around the performance area and hitting a pose, they either arrange their sheets on the floor, let them fall to the ground or hold on to them. One of the dancers begins to tear at the rice paper with his teeth, and one by one they each start chewing, sucking, nibbling and ripping their paper. It occurs to me that the duration of the performance will be dictated by the time it takes the performers to finish their meal. Merging with the sounds of digesting paper is a sophisticated a cappella polyphony by the dancers of what is called sound material: brilliant arrangements by Dalila Khatir of a range of styles from Josquin des Prez’ Qui Habitat, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Corelli’s La Folia to The Kills’ Ticket Man, Daniel Johnston’s King Kong and Sexy Sushi’s Je t’obéis. As the food enters the alimentary canal and begins its descent, so do the bodies of the dancers bend towards the floor where polyphony gives way to a digestive cacophony. It is as if the company has been given the task of visualizing the digestive system as they writhe, contort, groan and occasionally regurgitate. It’s a messy scene with bodies littering the stage in introverted examination. There’s an interesting self-referential text about a man who is full of shit (Le bonhomme de merde by Christophe Tarkos) with the line, ‘everything he danced was shit.’ Is Charmatz making fun of himself? He is known as a provocateur and manger is certainly provocative albeit in a playful way.

Continuing on the theme of mouths, dancers suck and lick their own flesh — arms, breasts, feet or whatever they can get within range of their tongues with contortion and imagination, not to mention abandon. Initially all the dancers perform in isolation but gradually individuals self-propel like seals towards a partner. Duets constitute a game in which the upper partner uses all parts of his or her body to balance and slide over a slithering lower partner without touching the ground. Once all the dancers are thus ensconced, two duets roll slowly into a wrap that gathers a third into a duodenal sextet. Meanwhile one of the women starts a vocal rhythm while a second bites her backside (a function of the mouth that has been unexplored till now). The singer is unfazed and continues to eat paper while leading the development of a stunning seven-part motet that is followed by Aesop Rock’s Leisure Force with a solo hip hop accompaniment. Corelli’s La Folia emerges like a divine anthem while the lighting levels of the suspended neon tubes (courtesy of Yves Godin) rise and fall and the dancers improbably slither back to their opening places, lying like dying warriors on a battlefield of paper and pulling up their shirts to reveal distended stomachs. The sound of high-pitched inbreath gives way to a bluesy rendition of Daniel Johnston’s King Kong and digestion gives way to energy in an episode of elevated turns and split jumps that accompanies a chorus of vocal punctuation. The manual vacuuming of paper continues and my initial suspicion is confirmed. The stage is being picked clean and the sheets of paper are almost gone. The dancers gather in the centre, massaging their throats like geese as they digest the remaining paper and sing part of Hey Light by Animal Collective with the line, You have made me smile again. manger certainly has its smiling moments; the dancers are fully and delightfully engaged in Charmatz’s choreographic proposal but it is the incongruity of the physiological exploration with the uplifting nature of the vocal (the one goes down while the other goes up) that keeps manger in concentrated tension. How do you end such an orgy of the senses? A violent gastrointestinal attack in a blinding flash of light, then complete darkness.