At the limits of imagination

Corpus 6 Apr 2008English

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Alexandra Baudelot, Jennifer Lacey & Nadia Lauro: Dispositifs chorégraphiques, collection Nouvelles scènes, Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2007, 144 pp., 25 Euro, ISBN 978-2-84066-184-9

Julie Perrin, Projet de la matière – Odile Duboc: Mémoire(s) d'une oeuvre chorégraphique, collection Parcours d'artistes/Nouvelles scènes, Pantin: Centre national de la danse/Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2007, 208 pp., 30 Euro, ISBN 978-2-84066-201-3

The collaboration of the American choreographer Jennifer Lacey with the French visual artist and set designer Nadia Lauro since 2000 has by now yielded a multifaceted and peculiar body of work, with performances such as $Shot, Châteaux of France, This is an Epic and Mhmmmm, and smaller projects that include video work and a manga series. The French critic Alexandra Baudelot is the first to tackle this work in an extended essay, richly illuminated with colour photographs. Lacey and Lauro's obstinate work doesn't so much seek to establish a proper vocabulary as it approaches the stage as a site in which social and cultural representations of the body and gender can be analysed, deconstructed and transformed, which always results in a particular form. That singularity is Baudelot's departure point: she develops her analysis out of the performances themselves, supported by a minimal historical and theoretical framework only, but with all the more attention for their current relevance and critical potential.

Lacey and Lauro orchestrate bodies that commute between the historical theatricality of the stage, and the quotidian theatricality of our society of spectacle. In their view, dance is a study of body images, cultural codes, vocabularies and perspectives, to the end of which they eagerly browse through popular genres that define the contours of a contemporary mythology: pornography, horror films, mangas, TV soaps, photo novels, fashion. Once taken out of context, on stage they become material for the construction of alternative body representations. Baudelot discusses the choreographic and dramaturgical strategies used by Lacey and Lauro to, as it were, neutralise clichés, to then charge them again with complex and ambiguous energies, in which the artificial and the real, the visual and the organic, the public and the intimate mingle.

In the same vein, Baudelot addresses gender as a social construct, but she actually looks for the work's political character in an alternative notion of community. Popular characters that find a ‘second life' in the work, sometimes literally as zombies or ghosts, are a multitude that pressure a traditional notion of community: they embrace dispersal and a sense of possibility in their quest for alternative body images and potential dance aesthetics. It is a motley crowd that puts the limits of our cultural imagination to a test in a series of liminal practices. The recalcitrance of Lacey and Lauro isn't exactly in the politically correct analysis, but in the exploration of a language that is still to be discovered, which is at once remote and uncannily close.


In 2003, the French choreographer Odile Duboc reconstructed her Projet de la matière from 1993. At the time it was an important piece, as it introduced new working methods that weren't common yet in Europe. The piece wasn't a ‘written' choreography, but a series of improvisations in which dancers sought to represent matter through specific movement qualities (water, air, earth, fire). Both artistic collaborators and dancers were granted a lot of freedom to explore this abstract matter and make it tangible. The dance scholar Julie Perrin was invited to the studio in 2003 to document the working process that preceded the piece's revival. This resulted in a book with DVD, a recording of the performance by Laszlo Horvath.

Perrin describes at length the dramaturgical source material, interviewed dancers and artistic collaborators, includes impressions of the performance and discusses issues of memory and repertory. By this she manages to grasp the translation of a literary imaginary (Bachelard and Blanchot) into a new dance language, but all too detailed. Projet de la matière compels a classical notion of form in its attempt to evoke the formless and the infinite. Again imagination's limits are at stake, an insight Perrin addresses through dramaturgical observations and interviews. Luckily she also makes a few suggestions for a theoretical framing, because a large part of the book isn't very accessible for people who aren't familiar with Duboc's work.

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