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Bytom Festival - The Belgians Are Coming

Compagnie Michele Noiret - 'White Room'
July 7, 2006

by Aneta Glowacka

Compagnie Thor - 'D'Orient'
July 11, 2006

by Pawel Skalski

July 2006 -- Bytom, Poland

“White room” was for the most part an interesting and disturbing performance, taking the audience to other conditions of feeling, beyond rationality, domestication and closeness. White curtains on three sides closed the space; this white stage was empty, except for a square table and black stool. Around these props, four black-dressed dancers changed their places like pawns on a chessboard. Coming out from under a white wall or from the side of the stage, the dancers moved without any logic, like elements of a jigsaw. With monochromatic colors, this aesthetic space became a screen for projections of the subconscious.

It is hard to make a coherent story from the episodes comprising the performance, but then, the subconscious mind is also illogical. The central points of the story were the women and the table, which attract all our attention. They formed  an axis, showing the direction of movement where the energy accumulated. They danced on and around the table, repeatedly sitting on the stool. They moved the table with fluid motion. Standing on four legs, the table was dancing on the stage. The slow motion movement of the dancers gave a surrealistic impression and simple everyday movement gained new qualities.

Michele Noiret’s performance is more concerned with the subconscious mind rather than the intellect: The repetition of the dancers' physical movements,  multiplication of people (At times it was hard to tell whether  the woman who enters  is the same one who just left a moment ago), loss of identity, or musical motifs constantly returning,trance-like.

Scenes broke with sudden darkness and aggressive and worrying music, reminding us of Jan Fabre’s performances. The aesthetic space attacks with precise coldness. Her performance was certainly interesting and suffused with subconscious feeling. But it is a pity that the repetitions seemed endless.. The multiplication began to bore. Instead of a feeling of fear, “White room” eventually put me to sleep.

If we could only see one piece, this would be it.

“D’Orient”, by Compagnie Thor

The festival audience gave a standing ovation to “D’Orient”, by the Belgian group, Company Thor.

In the post- September 11th world, which is generally perceived as embodying a clash between Western and Islamic civilization, performances created in Europe but inspired by the Near East, stimulate a kind of unhealthy “political’ curiosity. In this particular case, the audience had better forget world politics and open themselves to the richness of images, true charm and an atmosphere of a unique performance resembling a fairy tale -- a fabulous cross-cultural event: Cross-cultural because we are dealing here with a very personal and deeply subjective picture, with a vision, which could have been born in the imagination of any one of us.

The blue twilight, the East Asian music lazily filling our ears, and barely visible figures lying on the stage. Slowly, almost casually, two dancers start a story. Their movement is lazy, flowing like water. The consecutive duets pass on the motifs, carrying on a bizarre conversation without words, which inevitably draws on the moist, dream-like climate of oriental baths as a place of ritual purification, meditation, but also of rest, freedom and sensuality. In this scene, but not only in this one, there is something amazing – the eroticism, absolutely surprising because only male dancers take part. The choreographer, Thierri Smits, was able to capture how vital it is for all men to explore the female side of their ego and how this inner harmony matters in the East Asian culture, culture, which is according to our myths, so patriarchal and chauvinistic.

There is the motion of the dancers who transfigure themselves  within the performance. They also – with their own hands – change the sets, for instance, when they cover them with strands of wool from huge sacks. The story continues, not allowing us to leave the imagined world, even for a moment. Occasionally, it nearly lulls us to sleep, like a peaceful voice of an eastern wandering storyteller, only to find ourselves  lifted again in a moment by the energy, colors and oriental splendor of consecutive images.The vastness of the desert, the arduous path in the sand, the loneliness, losing themselves in the rotating trance movement of the dervish, a Persian carpet, a struggle and a meditation, all are depicted by movement, light and music, in a way that makes the viewers unable to give their attention to anything but the stage.

The movement of the dancers, obviously inspired by oriental elements, makes the performance even more powerful. In its structure it probably differs from what is presented by the other groups from the USA and UK. Both the level of technique and the compatibility of the dancers deserve praise. Interestingly enough, the viewers cannot see separate roles or characters at all. The choreographer does not base his approach on the individuality of his dancers; the performers are similar as far as  age, appearance and skills are concerned. The performance is full of scenes in which there is only one person on the stage, but the fragments, in which  groups dances as a whole, overwhelm the viewers with their energy. Another “dancer”, at least equivalent to humans, is light, directed by Reynaldo Ramperssado, which almost creates its own parallel spectacle.

“D’Orient” is a communal piece created by Compagnie Thor. The music, sets, props, costumes, choreography, anddancers themselves, all combine harmoniously, and amaze us with novel ideas and conjure up an exotic, surprising and, most important of all, a beautiful fairy tale.

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