Santa Barbara Dance Theater; Photo by Brandon Whited
Santa Barbara Dance Theater; Photo by Brandon Whited

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Impressions of Oui Danse at Danspace Project

Impressions of Oui Danse at Danspace Project
Erin Bomboy/Follow @ErinBomboy on Twitter

By Erin Bomboy/Follow @ErinBomboy on Twitter
View Profile | More From This Author

Published on September 22, 2013
Oui Danse. Photo by Kristin Aytona.

Roving a Passionate World

French Amour at Danspace Project
September 13, 2013
Created, Directed, and Choreographed by Brice Mousset
Original Story by Marcella Guarino; Styling by Catherine Correa;Lighting Designer by Jose Vargas;Performed by Oui Danse

Erin Bomboy for The Dance Enthusiast


Brice Mousset, artistic director of Oui Danse, wants to change how we experience dance performances. Forget the traditional model in which audiences sit in darkened theaters as the action unfolds on a frontally positioned stage. In French Amour, Mousset stations the roving audience only inches from the performers and treats St. Mark’s Church like a continuously evolving art installation.

Oui Danse. Photo by Melissa Correa.
Oui Danse. Photo by Melissa Correa.

As the title suggests, love is in the air. Set up to evoke an underground Parisian salon, industrious bartenders pour white wine under glowing crimson lights. Though the show hasn’t begun, a lazy conga line drifts by and show-goers clutch their significant other in a dreamy slow dance. Don’t think you can linger by the sidelines: A youthful Asian performer calling himself Francois will make a charming plea to get you to join the swaying couples.

Mousset exploits the abundant spatial possibilities of St. Mark’s Church. Bedrooms — four rectangular panes of light — hug the corners of the dance floor and host intimate solos. In one bawdy sequence, the seating risers feature a string of leering beauties swiveling their hips. The most memorable section, a sensual duet with a cast of four dancers exiting and entering the action, occurs on the altar. While wandering about the space is encouraged, in reality, black-clad dancers act as maître d’s, managing our experience by towing us to and from the various episodes.

The choreography, spotlighting duets interspersed with the occasional ensemble section, is labeled "contemporary". A staple of television shows like So You Think You Can Dance, "contemporary"  is known for packing an emotional sucker punch in only a few minutes. Intense and lyrical, it employs sky-high leg extensions, explosive leaps, heaving limbs, and amplified facial expressions. French Amour’s hour-long format exposes the dramatic limitations of this genre: Its heated dynamic encourages an unrelentingly manic tempo and the hyperbolic movements soon bleed together. We yearn for edges, nuance, and stillness.

Oui Danse. Photo by Kristin Aytona.
Oui Danse. Photo by Kristin Aytona.

Short snippets of pop music blur into one long soundscape. Mousset makes a direct translation between the lyrics and his composition. When “La Vie En Rose” plays, scarlet rose petals flutter onto the performers. Many of the choices — Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” Etta James’s “Stormy Weather,” and Nat “King” Cole’s “When I Fall in Love” — seem uninspired, but at times, a piece such as “Never Tear Us Apart” sung by Paloma Faith give resonance to the frenzied bodies hurtling through space.

French Amour seduces us like an infatuated teenager: Its feverish insistence electrifies in the beginning, but the thrill, unmitigated by shifts in tone or tempo, grows monotonous.

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