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Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault - 'Joe'

The Book of Joe

by Julia Skene-Wenzel

October 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Urban alienation, its effect on the individual and the loneliness within a crowd are all central and re-occurring themes since the impact of the industrial revolution on mankind. Modernism, as well as Post-modernism, has given rise to countless depictions of its reality. Twenty-one years after its creation, the Fondation Jean-Pierre Perrault introduces ‘Joe’ to British audiences. Hailed as a ‘cult-classic’, it portrays the average ‘Joe’ within the city mass.

Thirty-two performers, dressed in brown-greyish overcoats, hats and heavy boots, move across a bare stage. Accompanied solemnly by the sound of their steps, the group slides, walks and marches to the rhythm of urban living. At times, individuals break off to confront, or to hide from the crowd, but no one can withstand its relentless pulse for long. Struggling between conformity and defiance, mundane movement patterns blend seamlessly with more stylistic phrases that allow the dancers to reach out and break the grid. However, it is the ever changing body percussion that suspends the work in a constant state of agitated tension.

Some see Jean-Pierre Perrault’s work as the portrayal of the ‘destructive forces of conformity’, while others are struck by the struggle of the human spirit to break free -- and indeed both elements are present. On the outset the group dominates the stage, but as the piece unfolds, individuals emerge – some taller, some softer, thinner or more forceful.

Through subtle differences, the Canadian choreographer plays with his audience’s perception: is it a faceless crowd, or a gathering of people? Perrault himself insists that “no matter what happens to this or that individual, a flame still flickers within them. The soul can never be extinguished.” He created "Joe" in 1984 and it became his signature piece after its premier by the newly established Fondation Jean-Pierre Perrault. His premature death in 2002 brought an early end to his remarkable career. His legacy has been described as ‘works of great poignancy, a beauty of essence, community, individual dignity, loneliness and passion’. The 2004 world tour of "Joe" marks the twentieth anniversary of the Fondation and is homage to its creator.

In London, the Sadler’s Wells audience showed a mixed reaction. While some left the auditorium at the earliest convenience, others gave the company an enthusiastic standing ovation. Two decades after its creation the work has lost some of its novelty, but it is not lacking impact, or relevance.

Edited by Jeff.

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