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Edinburgh International Festival 2005

La Compagnie FV - 'Contrecoup'

by David Mead

August 19, 2005 -- Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

"Contrecoup" (‘repercussions’) is based on "Absalom, Absalom", American author William Faulkner’s novel of the American Deep South which explores themes of legitimacy, legacy and racial prejudice.

Through the perspectives of different characters, the novel looks at the life of plantation owner Thomas Sutpen, a tragic figure who tried but failed to build a family dynasty. Faulkner himself said that while collectively we see the truth, no single individual ever sees the whole story. "Contrecoup" takes up this idea, the story being told by different performers, each giving their own version and seeing it from a different angle.

The work is dominated by designer Didier Goury’s stark carousel, a weird, futuristic machine with its many levels and bare steel, cold and unforgiving. At the beginning, the carousel is turned ever faster by five of the men slumped against its posts as if lying under some southern tree on a steamy hot day. Faster and faster, creaking like some ancient turbine or tumble drier taking us to ‘the south’, a place it seems where no right-headed person would want to live.

It is on this machine, designed to reflect the merry-go-round of destiny, that the action mostly takes place, the performers walking round its many levels, swinging gymnast-like, hanging from it, sometimes horizontally, or laying on a rope slung between two-posts hammock-like. At its centre is a single huge drape that the performers sometimes swing from or simply hang on. In some ways you wished the carousel could be used more, and definitely that drape. You wished there were a few more moments of fast movement but it was exactly the generally languid movement that so completely captured the mood of the hot, sultry, southern states and the story.

The performers maintained a stern, hard, yet distant look in keeping with Faulkner's novel and that they were recollecting events from the past. There was always that undercurrent of tension. The effect of time and distance was added to by the complete lack of colour: the effect was like watching an old black and white movie.

Text from Faulkner's novel read in French by the dancers form the backdrop to the production. Verret may call himself a choreographer but many would not see this as dance. The words are sometimes recorded, but when they are read live by Verret himself, who so seems to capture the mood, they are most effective. A translation was provided on two screens set up in the boxes immediately adjacent to the stage but to read it you had to take your eyes away from the action. You felt you had to read it but to do so interrupted your absorbing all the impressions from the dance itself.

"Contrecoup" simultaneously sits in the realm of theatre, dance and circus. Sometimes that can be uncomfortable and a few of the audience, who I assume expected something rather more ‘dancey’, did leave early. It is not a work to send you home on a high but it is certainly a high-quality theatrical experience that makes you think.

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