The sound of silence

Boris Charmatz presents the silent film ‘Une lente introduction’ in deSingel (Antwerp)

Corpus 18 Oct 2007English

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Film muet’ reads a caption at the beginning, as if to stipulate the work’s medium – silent movie. As if to make sure that ‘this is not a dance film!’ Though the French choreographer Boris Charmatz has created several ‘dance films’ before, he always remained faithful to his belief that dance is not a pictorial medium. Une lente introduction is a film in collaboration with the film maker Aldo Lee, and it stays indeed silent throughout its 34 minutes. The end titles remind us that the film is based on Charmatz’ 1997 choreography Herses (une lente introduction); they even list up the credits of that project, including, curiously, the titles of the compositions by Helmut Lachenmann used in that earlier work. Still, Une lente introduction is not so much an erasure of Lachenmann, nor of Herses (une lente introduction). The film’s silence insists that it is not just a registration of a dance piece, but a work in its own right: the choreography does not happen in the image, but is taken elsewhere by the sound of silence.

Where does the choreography actually happen? Although with the silence, you seem to be immersed in the film already before the first images appear, it will take a slow introduction to find out. Even after 34 minutes that slow start is still about to happen without quite happening – it is a start that has already happened unnoticed and requires endless stretches of time to be traced. As if its secret were swallowed by the silence. Une lente introduction is certainly Charmatz’ most meditative work, allowing for a distant contemplation of the imagery. But the film also intoxicates you through the ears, making audible the muttering of your own thoughts and desires, as if their volume were cranked up by the silence.


But in order to hear, we must first watch. Four naked bodies, two men and two women, are exploring a small platform, tracing one another’s bodies, probing distances, borders, horizons. Like often in Charmatz’ work, the dancers’ movements are highly idiosyncratic and resist legibility. At the same time, these choreographic gestures of erasure revolve around a few clear reference points, like for instance naked bodies launched one moment into joyful dancing and hopping around – flirting with the fiction of an unburdened, natural body. At a closer look, the performers appear to be not quite naked – they are wearing wigs, and they carry meaning. Their striptease is a conceptual one: bodies stripped bare of the clichés, fictions and narratives they are dressed in all the time – which nevertheless continue to linger in our perceptual habits, and sometimes surface in the dancers’ bodily projections.

Une lente introduction not only erases, reduces and suspends. The film also adds quite a few layers to the choreography happening somewhere on that platform. Lit by Madjid Hakimi, the dancers are wrapped in the strong sculptural contrasts of chiaroscuro, sometimes they even disappear in the darkness looming at the edges of the space. Then there is Aldo Lee’s hand-held camera, which moves slowly as if skirting a landscape, which stops, wavers and comes close, which suddenly shifts and plunges into a low perspective, which wields a frame severing limbs and slicing bodies. It is the restless view of an eye supported by a body. The video footage was later transferred to 35 mm film, but not without first manipulating the colours, covering the bodies with a somewhat artificial dim spectrum, shades of green and purple, and roughening their skins with the grain of pixels. The frames and mediations are present, yet they appear to create proximity rather than distance. Their violence is softened by the silence.


The thread that most clearly structures the dance sequences is a double pas de deux of two couples – the couple, yet another strong marker of dance’s phantasmal realm. Julia Cima and Boris Charmatz are engaged in a wild, contact-ridden physical duet, moving beyond the imagery and clichés of the couple, though not avoiding strong sexual overtones in their dancing. The simultaneous duet of Myriam Lebreton and Vincent Dupont is constructed around distance and provides a backdrop for the other duet. That at the same time yet another duet between the film and the spectator takes place, becomes clear at the end of the film, when a fifth dancer (Sylvain Prunenec) enters the frame and then the platform, to be embraced by a mass of four people, forming one symbiotic, communal body. Une lente introduction stages the desire of participation literally through the possibility of walking into the image.

Again, not the promise and consumption of an ideal image are at stake here, as this visual phantasm is accompanied by, even steeped in silence. The real participation happens elsewhere. What ties us to the image is our desire to hear those dancing bodies, muted by the editor’s hand. We are in that sound – which is nothing else than the reverberation of our own projections – and experience silence unbridling the heterogeneous realm of the acoustic imaginary. Perhaps this is Charmatz’ main choreographic gesture, carried by the separation of image and sound: to provide with Une lente introduction a medium that elicits desires different from those that conform to the codes of the theatre or the society of spectacle, and allow the spectators to descend into the intimacy of their own depths – where silence must inevitably touch upon the secret.