‘Contrecoup’ - La Compagnie FV
Edinburgh Playhouse, 19th August 2005
‘Contrecoup’ (‘repercussions’) is based on American author William Faulkner’s ‘Absalom, Absalom’, set in the American Deep South, which explores themes of legitimacy, legacy and racial prejudice.
The novel looks at the life of plantation owner Thomas Sutpen, a tragic figure who tried and failed to build a family dynasty, through the perspectives of different characters within it. 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 Didier Goury’s stark carousel, which looks like some weird machine or futuristic carousel with its many levels, bare steel, cold and unforgiving. At the beginning it 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 on it 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 the text and the fact 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 whole thing was like watching some old black and white movie.
Texts from the 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 it is when they are read live by Verret himself, who so seemed to capture the mood with his delivery and tone, that 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, I assume expecting something rather more ‘dancey’, did leave early. It is not a work to send to home on a high but it is certainly a high-quality theatrical experience that makes you think.