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AUDIENCE REVIEW: 'Body and Soul' Questions the Nature of Humanity
Crystal Pite’s Body and Soul has me questioning what it is to be human, and whether it’s different than being any other animal. The incredible dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet take us on a journey exploring human nature and connection, providing more questions than answers.
DanceHouse and partners launched their Digidance streaming series last week, making Body and Soul available to Canadian audiences for the first time. In a short interview before the main feature Pite shares that she is inspired by conflict and connectedness, exploring the tension that arises when two conflicting ideas collide, with the ultimate goal of connecting people to each other. She describes Body and Soul as “a series of duets—between individuals, groups. Duets between body and soul.”
The 2019 choreography is composed of three acts. The first two explore these themes through a human lens, as people in suits and trenchcoats go about their lives. The dancers morph into insect-like creatures in act 3, with faceless pointed heads and extended forelimbs, dancing first on 4 legs, then on two pointed feet, their extra long arms above their heads. The sounds of human voices mixed with nature (thunder, ocean, wind) in acts 1 and 3 contrast with the classical Chopin prelude of act 2. At first the stage is lit intimately with a warm overhead lamp, then becomes expansive and over-exposed, before ending in a shiny, hot alien world.
Pite’s genius lies in the way she manipulates group choreography, weaving between connection and separation with impossibly smooth transitions. In act 1 we see all 36 dancers mimicking ocean waves—they form a single line with two distinct sides, the contrast created by black and white costumes. It’s mesmerizing as they all move as one, holding hands, sharing their weight. How many dancers are intertwined? Where does one end and another begin? The same formation becomes two waves rippling against each other, one causing the other. We hear indistinct chanting, and the waves come together again, violent and chaotic. Everyone is an individual, pushing and pulling against the crowd.
There are many ways of looking at human nature. This mesmerizing sequence shows us as a single entity, as factions, and as individuals. Are we one swarm, one body and soul, no different from bees in their hive? Other duets focus on the relations between two people. When the entire stage is exposed, it seems to go on forever. A couple is so in sync they could also be sharing a body and soul, but they look so small compared to the whole.
The same script repeats throughout Body and Soul. A woman describes what the figures on stage are doing, “Gauche, droit, gauche, droit, gauche. Tête sur la poitrine, tête dans les mains. Pause.”* The same words might describe a wide variety of relationships—a fight, a celebration, a love affair, a moment of grief.
* “Left, right, left, right, left. Head on chest, head in hands. Pause.”
One man stands out from the masses. His head and arms are covered in long fur which he throws around like a mane. He moves in a deep plie, throwing his arms and torso about. We can’t see his face, yet his body is clearly human. When he appears for the second time, this character who had reminded me of a caveman is now more like a rock god. He struts around the stage in gold sequins with the rest of the cast as his backup dancers. I have to wonder, is his peacocking a signal of his humanity, or his animalism? It may be the place where human and animal collide within us all.