Impressions from France: Xavier Le Roy's "Sans Titre"
At Théâtre de la Cité International in Paris
December 8-13, 2014
* Xavier Le Roy's "Retrospective" at MoMa PS1 part of Crossing The Line Festival is reviewed by Brian Seibert of the New York Times click here for that piece.
Xavier Le Roy has not made his new work Sans Titre for us, the audience. He has made it for himself, for the sheer pleasure he gets out of seeing how we respond as he breaks theatrical conventions and protocols. He does not seem to be interested in anything about his work except our reaction. In this regard, as a scientist conducting an experiment, he is very sincere.
He enters unto the stage in street clothes and glasses to tell us that he can't remember the first part of tonight's three-part program. He mumbles this like an old man with Alzheimers. There is a tangible shift in the air, in how we are listening, as we take in what this might mean.
He asks if we can hear him. We say no. He continues speaking quietly. (Between his intentional mumbling and the French, I miss a lot.) He proposes looking at the program notes together to see if something in them might help. His voices rings out loud and clear as he reads. He asks us, indistinctly, for ideas on how to proceed, but doesn't follow any suggestion offered. His job, it seems, is to block all possible movement forward into the evening. It's as if he is throwing us against a wall of empty space and time to see what we'll do.
I don't mind sitting with my impatience and boredom. The part of me that is curious about things is intrigued, even amused, and wants to see what will happen. In spite of this, I resent the fact that Le Roy does not have the courage to try out any of the ideas the audience proposes to find out what happens -- to throw himself up against the unknown, too. No! This is his experiment. He has total control and aims to keep it.
This is, after all, a French artist. And highly respected here, too, from what I can tell. His performance is part of the 43rd edition of the Festival d'Automne (The Fall Festival) -- one of the most important annual events in Paris, lasting from October through December. This is the fourth time his work has been presented in the festival.
Someone proposes that the audience perform part one (which, of course, Le Roy nixes as he has every other proposition we've given -- either with a lame excuse or by ignoring the suggestion altogether). The question of what the difference is between him and us is raised. One audience member says, "You are paid and we are paying to be here." This must be a new thought for Le Roy, because he lightens up a little as if part of him is laughing and part of him is shocked. But he tries to stay neutral and quickly returns to his oppressive, passive resistance. We continue to sit, while nothing much happens.
We sit in the dark, in silence. For a really long time. (Oh joy!) A loud clunk resounds as something heavy falls onto the stage. How long can an audience sit in the dark and not walk out? (A pretty long time, it turns out!) Maybe there IS a little light. There are two bodies on stage. Maybe they are moving, just a bit… Yes. We continue to watch, hoping to see something.
Finally, a smaller body peels away from one of the larger ones, and worms its way slowly, slowly across the stage, diagonally toward us (resembling the bodies in the accompanying photographs). It takes forever. We are bored. We are tired. We still can't really see. At least there has been some music playing for a while. Thank goodness someone in the audience knew the answer to the question "How long will this performance last?" One hour and ten minutes.
The thing that plopped down center stage in the dark is a giant puppet. It's head pops up first. It stands up bit by bit, and falls down again. Three times. A puppet is different from a person in that it does not have much weight. There is no play with gravity. It is not interesting, until it "climbs the air" -- its legs hoist up and stay put in the air as the torso shoots up a level. Three times. I sink back into boredom. The worm man has started to flail on his side as if he were pulling the strings of the puppet -- but he isn't. We can see the strings coming down from the rafters by now.
Only three people leave at the end of part two. It is 9pm. We only have another 10 minutes to go.
Photo: Jamie North
Le Roy lays flat on the floor. The lights are up, bright and full. It is a relief to be able to see. He flaps the fingers of one hand, like he is giving us The Finger. Sometimes he moves the full hand. At least his body has some weight to it. He adds the foot. Then the arm. The foot, the arm, the hand, the foot, the finger. My brain recognizes that he is like the puppet, but I no longer care. I don't believe he is sincere as a performer or as a choreographer. He works his way up to standing, and eases into a break dancing groove. He starts yelling loudly. Not like a human being yelling for a reason, or with any particular feeling. It is just a relentless noise, like a jackhammer. It starts to fry the edges of your skin. I wonder how much some artists hate their audience.
I was not sorry to have attended. A part of me enjoyed the question of "What happens if…?" In the end, though, I was really disappointed -- disgusted actually -- when Le Roy poked his head back into the lights to take a bow, rather than following through with his process completely and leaving us alone in the dark to figure out if it was over, and when we could leave. The fact that he yielded to the need for our applause ruined the whole evening for me. I was keen on playing the game all the way through to its end, whether he was or not.
I did not clap.
The Festival d’Automne à Paris (Paris Autumn Festival) is a festival of contemporary arts, embracing and combining different art forms. The Festival presents works that stand as references, involving approaches of an experimental nature by commissioning artists to create original works. Every year, from September to December, the Festival features over forty events attracting a total audience of more than 100,000. LINK: http://www.festival-automne.com/en/about-us