Emmanuel Grivet: Transparence blanc

Posted: October 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , | Comments Off on Emmanuel Grivet: Transparence blanc

Emmanuel Grivet, Transparence blanc, Chapter, Cardiff, September 26

Emmanuel Grivet

Emmanuel Grivet

Emmanuel Grivet rehearses his improvised solo, Transparence blanc, before an audience of delegates at the Dance Roads Open Process at Chapter in Cardiff. I had seen it a few nights before when Grivet, who had been hired as the mentor for the five choreographers in this project, had time for his own work after the day’s rehearsals were over. I was on that occasion the only observer; tonight’s sharing is a more formal setting and I want to test my initial reaction. I had been watching Grivet’s morning classes and knew I was in the presence of a gifted teacher of movement but his performance strips away the pedagogic elements and concentrates on his singular use of the body in space. His body is itself an expressive instrument, gaunt and gently angular with a shaven head and a pair of sympathetic eyes that give as much as they take in: a wise abbot, perhaps, who is quite comfortable in the presence of laity. He tells us before he starts that we have to imagine a water clock on the stage that he upends to begin the performance and that dictates the duration of the work. There is also, under normal performance conditions, a white floor with a black surround, a white backdrop and he is dressed in white. But this is an impromptu rehearsal, and none of those conditions exist.

Thus he begins, in silence, blurring lines between mime and dance as he partners the floor and the space around him with a clarity of intention that never falters. He tells us later that his inspiration for Transparence blanc came from his observation of babies (he has two children), in particular their unconditioned response to stimuli. Grivet’s gestures and sudden postural changes of direction and tempi are similarly unreadable as a message or narrative, but keep our attention fixed on the strength and freshness with which they are delivered. The power of this language is heightened paradoxically by its lack of emotional delivery and direct eye contact; he is aware of us without seeing us. But the real mystery of the work is how the continuous flow of gestures and body loci, moving effortlessly around a centre, form a cohesive, consistent whole. The improvisation takes the form of a soliloquy in which the entire body speaks with the physical equivalent of punctuation, inflection, and all the histrionic qualities of a masterful speaker. Grivet also employs his voice in an imagined language that sounds like a mix between Danish and Austrian and even though we cannot understand his meaning, there is never any doubt that there is a meaning because all the parts of his body accentuate the intention.

Grivet learned to articulate his body following an accident that injured his spine, putting an end to his sporting aspirations. Remedial body work led to a desire to express himself through the body and he turned to dance. He now heads his own company, compagnie emmanuel Grivet, in Tournefeuille, on the outskirts of Toulouse, where he continues to develop danced improvisation in which the freedom to move is sustained by a freedom to react. I was going to say ‘freedom to think’ but Grivet’s dance is essentially non-rational; it seems to derive from a depth of feeling and timelessness that connects with us on an atavistic level, sharing uncomplicated sensations like turning, jumping, crawling and walking in any number of variations without any pre-conceived idea of how they should be performed nor in what order. Improvisation is, after all, the free navigation between points in space. Grivet keeps the rhythm very much alive, shaping his space sometimes like a brief sketch and at others like a long, painterly line, recalling the famous French actor, Jean-Louis Barrault, when he described his mime as the ‘body writing a silent sentence in space’. Grivet creates an environment in silence and with music, but the music is more a balm to our senses than a stimulus for the improvisation. He makes visible what is invisible. I have never seen a dance form that is so free, nor, for one so overtly unemotional, so profoundly moving.