IMPRESSIONS: "La Chute des Anges" ("When Angels Fall") by Compagnie L’Oublié(e) in Paris
Choreographer and Director: Raphaëlle Boitel
Set Design and Lighting: Tristan Baudoin
Performers: Alba Faivre, Clara Henry, Loïc Leviel, Emily Zuckerman, Lilou Hérin (alternating with Sonia Laroze), Tristan Baudoin, Nicolas Lourdelle
Set, Machinery and Scenographic Accomplice: Nicolas Lourdelle
Original Music, Sound and Light Board: Arthur Bison
Costumer: Lilou Hérin
Venue: Theatre du Rond-Point, Paris
Dates: December 6 - 31, 2022
When Angels Fall, a poetic synthesis of circus, dance and theatre choreographed and directed by Raphaëlle Boitel of Compagnie L'Oublié(e) takes place in a dark and desolate landscape designed by Tristan Baudoin. Smoke engulfs three black suits draped over hangers, pant legs just touching the floor. Stark shafts and cones of light cut through the haze to reveal a person lost within each of these oversized outfits. With heads sunk down, lolling at lapel level, they seem like floppy puppets with little will of their own.
The support of a wire descending from the rafters and hooking into each suit’s hanger allows knees to collapse inward as the performers walk in ways a body could not possibly bear, or jump high into the air with perfectly straight legs. One performer twirls in a series of buoyant petite battements that defies gravity ever so slightly. Bodies walk-soar through space with the nonchalance of avatars in a computer game. Someone above is definitely pulling their strings. One man climbs through the air as if it were tangible, as if he were trying to get somewhere that matters.
Freed from their wires and joined by four additional cast members, they continue to surprise us. Lower halves of bodies pivot abruptly, followed by upper bodies snapping mechanically back into alignment. A luscious backflip swirls through space like paint on canvas. A woman’s head drops far back, as if utterly disconnected. Another performer rights it. Twice. More machine than human, she suffers a serious disconnect between mind and body. A woman spirals up a pole but loses her footing and crashes down awkwardly, only to begin again, and again, like Sisyphus.
In this bleak and barren land, the rules of acceptable movement and behaviour are clearly programmed. Even so, moments of individual yearning or human feeling arise sporadically like glitches or embarrassing gaffs. One man jumps up and down, arms flapping, longing for wings that are not there. When he realises someone is watching he reverts to repetitive angular movements that belie no feeling.
In another section, a small, dark-haired woman is drawn to a light emanating from offstage. She whispers to the light or to herself with words I cannot understand. The others shush her. The group links together to pull her away from her luminous communion, but she persists. One man spits out, “Shh...” vehemently and repeatedly. The sound, accompanied by intense bodily compressions and agitated jerks, takes on a life of its own — like a pressure cooker — and makes far more noise than the woman’s whispers ever did.
An amusing double duet develops as a man and woman manipulate a doll-like couple. The doll-man’s hand is moved back and forth from the elbow. Ah! He is waving hello. The doll-woman’s arm is raised and lowered repeatedly along her side. She is waving back. Or is she signalling for help? The doll-man’s hands are placed behind his head while his hips are thrust off-centre in sorry cybernetic seduction. The doll-woman’s hand is made to caress the doll-man’s face, neck, cheek, but without articulation or feeling. They fall toward one another, interlacing stiff arms in a thoroughly unsatisfying hug.
The living man and woman find themselves face-to-face making almost imperceptible iterations of movement as they ponder what it might be like to hug the other, or caress a cheek. Another performer witnesses this moment of weakness, this moment of humanity. The woman races offstage in a fluster. The man clicks his body rigidly vertical, fwapping his arms about in repetitive angular patterns, trying to prove he never dreamed of feeling, not for a moment.
The light whisperer crawls up a floating ladder, counter-balanced by the others as she walks up into the sky and disappears. As the piece ends, we hear her whispers echoing all around as if calling us to join her. Hats off to Raphael Boitel and her team for this entertaining and uplifting tale of persistence and escape that seems to tap into some deep, lost part of our souls, insisting that we remember our better selves. For every time we forget, every time we abandon this profound inner knowing, we fall.
“Limited in his nature, infinite in his desires, man is a fallen god who remembers the heavens.”
— Alphonse de Lamartine, French writer, poet and politician