I watched this piece on Saturday afternoon. It was the opening performance for “Le Grand Bain“, a dance festival that is happening in my sweet little city in France. The theatre was just a five minute walk from my house, and since it was Carnival Day in my area (I have yet to hear an explanation how or why a Carnival Day comes about, just having one seems to be a good enough reason) – I made my way to the theatre accompanied by a shining sun, festive confetti, partially nude women in glittery costumes and a marching band. So, before the piece even started things were strange and exciting for me.
Simon Tanguy is a French choreographer and dancer who seems depressingly young to be making such exquisite and intelligent dance pieces. Japan.fever.more consists of three works: two solos, performed by Tanguy and one duet. Japan – the young man and the death, created in 2011, is the sort of performance that after it’s over, leaves you unable to figure out what just happened and why you enjoyed it so much. Reflecting now on the piece, I am completely unable to pinpoint why I found it to be so successful.
The piece seems to be structured on a series of slow build ups. Movement and sound begin slowly, they repeat, progress, and escalate into an often discomforting explosion of tension. Maybe explosion is the wrong word, it is more of a stop, sometimes so abrupt that it feels explosive. There is an interesting thing about such a build-up – time and tension are gathered up slowly, giving us room to traverse a series of emotions. Initially there is respect and patience for the slow beginning, an awkward bewilderment as things progress and speed up and then before you know, you are already emotionally committed in this journey and you are able to recognize an agony or weight in the eventual conclusion. The various stretches of building-up and collapsing that Tanguy sets out on, results in a work both humourous and haunting, allowing the audience to become as committed to the piece as the performer. In this piece, the choreographic timing and structure of these arcs are incredibly effective and well-made. What’s more, Tanguy’s movement is so loose and easy, but his commitment and energy is tense and tight, creating a really interesting contrast that makes the work that much more dynamic.
The second piece that follows Japan offers a sort of break, there is some breathing room in this piece, created in 2012 and entitled Fever – the young man and the dance. It is just that – a young man and the dance. In the press kit, there is a brilliant sentence that simply and quite poetically states, “Fever talks about watching the music coming in and out of a man”. It is a dance to music. It is quite something to watch Simon Tanguy dance, he has the grooviest and nicest-looking way of moving. Perhaps it has something to do with his training at Le Samovar, a clown and physical theatre school in Paris, but there is a sense of humour, constantly evasive and subtle, that underlies much of his movement. It is not at all a clown-like humour, in fact, I think humour is the wrong word. Rather it is a type of intelligent wit or lightness that underlies the movement. In any case, it’s beautiful to watch the relationship between the music and his movement unfold before you.
And thirdly, there is the piece More – About him following her. This duet was performed by Tanguy and (on the evening I watched) Marzena Krzeminska. It has the same kind of weight and intensity as Fever but is something altogether different. Krzeminska manipulates and controls Tanguy’s body in a way that manages to be submissive, abusive, dismissive. She is tender and slightly crazed with Tanguy who, with his eyes closed throughout the work, is infact incredibly vulnerable and trusting but does not manage to adopt an absent role and is very much present and active in the duet, even though his body is responding entirely to the manipulation of another. The power switches constantly between the two and the relationship is complex. And weird. (Not that unsimilar to almost every human relationship ever). It is the strangest journey that unfolds.
You can watch a short trailer of Japan on YouTube. And the full-length work (of Japan that is, not Fever and More) is also available on Vimeo (part one and part two). However, I haven’t watched the full length video just yet and despite wanting as many people to watch this work as possible, I can’t imagine what it would be like on a screen as opposed to the live performance. In fact whilst watching the work, I thought to myself, “If I started watching this work on a screen, I would not make it past the first three minutes.” But the fifty minute piece flew by and I was sad when it was over. This year my faith in live performance has been completely restored. Film and screendance is good and has its place. I very much believe in it. However it is infinitely less magical than the exchange that happens between between performer and audience in real life. There is nothing quite like a beautifully crafted live performance such as this piece by Simon Tanguy, a choreographer whose work I am anxious to see more of.