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Impressions of : "Wonder" Michelle Boulé at the American Realness Festival

Impressions of :  "Wonder" Michelle Boulé at the American Realness Festival
Garnet Henderson/Follow @garnethenderson on Twitter

By Garnet Henderson/Follow @garnethenderson on Twitter
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Published on January 16, 2014
Michelle Boulé. Photo: Ian Douglas.

American Realness Festival, Abrons Arts Center -Thursday Jan. 9th- Sunday Jan 19th, 2014
Upcoming Shows: Saturday, January 18 8:30pm /Sunday, January 19 5:30pm

For ticket information, click on the Abrons Art Center website.

Choreographed and performed by Michelle Boulé
Sound design: Carmine Covelli in collaboration with Michelle Boulé
Text and costumes by Michelle Boulé
Lighting design by Natalie Robin
Choreographic advisor: Levi Gonzalez

With a suddenness that makes some in the audience jump, bright lights illuminate a white marley floor and pulsating, energetic music begins to play. Moments later, a naked Michelle Boulé enters, confident, with a tightly wound spring in her step. She sports a huge, enthusiastic grin and gazes just above audience members’ heads.

Weaving around the stage in circles and figure eights, she pauses periodically to sway in place. The audience is configured in the round, so half of the spectacle is in watching other spectators react to Boulé’s presence. She makes sure to get nice and close to each section of the audience, confronting them with the reality of her body, as if to expose every bit of herself as a prelude.

Michelle Boule in Wonder. Photo by Ian Douglas.
Michelle Boulé in Wonder. Photo by Ian Douglas.

After the track ends, Boulé allows the smile to fall from her face and the tension to recede from her limbs. She approaches one of the chairs in the audience to reach for something underneath - her clothes. Watching Boulé put on her simple blue rehearsal attire one piece at a time (such a mundane and often private act) is in some ways even more intimate than witnessing her nakedness. And with these clothes, the artist assumes a new persona, one of several she takes on in Wonder.

Boulé moves into a reaching, searching dance, probing her circular performance space with direct, long limbs. Her gaze often turns up toward the ceiling, as if something familiar can be found there. When this mesmerizing dance ends, it is time again for a new character to emerge. A voiceover plays in which Boulé details her academic and dance-related achievements, concluding with her calling So You Think You Can Dance "boring and unimpressive."

Retrieving a hula hoop, Boulé demonstrates her own crowd-pleasing virtuosity by swinging the circle around her hips with a knowing smile. A routine of tricks culminates in a sequence of pirouettes and turning leaps, throughout which she keeps hula hoop spinning without a hitch. Soon tiring of that, time comes for yet another example of mastery. Donning a blue wig and matching floor length gown, Boulé  lip syncs to Evelyn "Champagne" King’s hit, Love Come Down, and transforms into a "too-cool" disco star.

Michelle BoulAAA© in Wonder. Photo by Ian Douglas.
Michelle Boulé in Wonder. Photo by Ian Douglas.

In the thrashing, spontaneous dance that follows, the artist sheds all personas. Here is a body that isn't presenting anything except kinetic energy spilling over. However, the language of dance, the lines and qualities, are still present.  We rememember Boulé’s earlier voiceover and the details she's shared about many hours spent in dance classes. Years of training and habit are always there, sometimes rising to the surface and sometimes being pushed below.

After dancing herself to exhaustion, Boulé sits down for a moment in the audience, staring at the empty stage and glancing around at the other faces in her room. The space still vibrates.

For the finale, Boulé stands to perform a crumbling, collapsing dance. She moves slowly through a series of not-quite-realized positions, indecisively abandoning each movement before it reaches its end. She  works her way around the circle of spectators, looking each person in the front row in the eye. This drawn out, self-conscious dance introduces a new kind of stamina, challenging the patience and persistence of both audience and performer. While interesting at its start, once it becomes clear that Boulé is going to move around the entire circle this way, the sections loses some of its luster - a slightly disappointing conclusion to an otherwise enthralling performance.

Follow Garnet Henderson on Twitter @garnethenderson




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