IMPRESSIONS FROM PARIS: Compagnie METAtarses in Sandra Abouav's "À bouche que veux-tu (Yawn)"
October 13-14, 2017
Venue: L’Etoile du Nord Theatre, Paris
Festival: Avis de Turbulences #13
Choreographer: Sandra Abouav
Music: Vincent Cespedes
Dancers: Sandra Abouav, Jérémie Gardelli, Claire Malchrowicz, Joana Schweizer, Raphaël Soleilhavoup
Lighting: Cyril Leclerc / Costumes: Antonin Boyot Gellibert
Sound: Steven Le Corre / Stage Manager: Nicolas Sochas
Okay, I confess: I set out in search of escape. While the world collapses in the face of human greed and violence, the often-bloated self-importance of artists has grated on my nerves. Sandra Abouav’s À bouche que veux-tu, a study of yawning and its metamorphoses, sounded like a pleasant diversion.
Created in 2010, Compagnie METAtarses works with multiple disciplines along the frontiers of absurdity. Abouav invited composer and philosopher Vincent Cespedes to explore the body as a musical instrument, and the voice as a source of movement. Yawning certainly fits the bill.
Five performers relax on the stage. They shift position from time to time as we find our seats. When the lights dim, we are immersed in a wine dark sea of recorded words. “What is . . .?” “Violence.” “Pregnancy.” “Responsibility” . . . There are many words — all provocative. The bodies seem undisturbed by them, shifting from one reclining posture to another. Perhaps the world has made us numb. In any case, I let the sounds slide over me like a mass of wet and slippery fish.
The dancers never perform in unison, which allows us to meet them individually. They pivot and slide, swivel and sway, extending pedestrian vocabulary into dance, like it is no big deal. Each one has joined body and breath together, deeply, moving like liquid. The result is a cohesive ensemble — a single body — at play. Each of the nine sections is clearly delineated, exploring a specific theme, like how to cut a pear.
All of those words do, eventually, infect the dancers, nudging their nonchalance into angst. Joana Schweizer strikes through a sequence of postures center stage with percussive precision, strobe-like, that reveals only captured moments of stillness, and none of the movement in between: a beautiful, visceral, and astonishing solo, cradled within the ocean of ever-moving others.
Cespedes’ contribution is apparent. Music and language, recorded and live, blend together throughout. Hands pop against mouths rhythmically, and breath blows, bursts, and spits from this chorus of bodies. Like jazz, they flow in and out of grooves with an easy pleasure that is contagious.
The house lights come up part way, exposing us, the audience, to ourselves. Claire Malchrowicz proceeds to give detailed directions on how to yawn. Testing them, I realize how vulnerable we are when we relax the jaw, tilt the head back, and expose the inside of the throat. But I am alone, among strangers, and this does not fit in with my plans to retreat from reality: I cannot bring myself to cooperate.
Later, five tiny lights glide and hover through the darkness like drones in the night. I imagine innocent villages sleeping beneath. Escape is impossible. The lights float down along the aisles next to us, divulging the ‘open-wide’ mouths they are nested in. It is funny. And it is not.
Abouav comes forward to teach us how to cut a(n imaginary) pear, on a plate that slips out of mind into suspended, yawning moments of mental wandering, like Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. It is a delightful immersion in the surreal, and it is, indeed, absurd. Words stretch out-of-phrase so far they no longer mean anything. They’re just sounds unfolding around and through you. This section is my favorite.
“To cut a pear in two” (couper la poire en deux) is a French expression for reaching a compromise. While Abouav talks, the group yawns themselves into sleep, first politely melting into one another, and then, eventually, completely entwined with bottoms and arms, necks and feet fitting together in a ridiculously improper merging of body parts.
Abouav herself has a particular fluidity. I wish she had not hidden her almost unreal, cream-like spine ripples behind the other bodies. While the ending needs attention, overall, À bouche que veux-tu is a lovely excursion — both an escape and an immersion — into the human, the humane, and the absurd.
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