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Compagnie Maguy Marin

"Points de fuite"

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

April 5, 2002
By Mary Ellen Hunt


A bare stage, screaming guitars, flocking dancers, "Don't talk to me about what you are saying…. I'm not asking you what you are saying," - all without intermission. French post-modernist Maguy Marin frustrates. No doubt, people leave Points de fuite befuddled and shaking their heads murmuring, "What WAS that?" Going to see Compagnie Maguy Marin is not like attending your usual entertainment and many Americans may find Marin's work pretentious and boring, unused, as we are, to intellectual gauntlets in our mainstream arts. Underneath its stripped-down appearance, however, Points de fuite is rich and thought provoking, but you're going to have to bring your imagination, your intellect and a fair amount of socio-political awareness to the party. Points de fuite is not about amusing anyone, but challenging them.

"Well, then, what does it all mean?" my companion asks me. I saw a lot of things: lack of communication, misunderstandings, social diasporas, the unrest in the Middle East, an indictment of apathy. Really, I'm not kidding.

The title can be translated as "points of departure", but also as "breaking points". A friend with better knowledge of French tells me that it is not so much rooted in the physical departing, but more in the psychological disconnect that occurs when one makes a change, or leaves the comfort zone. For her point of departure, Marin has chosen to investigate the fugue, using the concepts of this musical form to give her piece structure. Fugues generally use a central subject, or theme, which is developed through repetition, imitation, and counterpoint to create simultaneous layers of themes, which sometimes seem to "chase" or sometimes "lead" the original subject. Marin has exploited that structure not only in dance phrases, but also in overlapping political ideas, which occasionally follow more of the "theme and variations" form, but which nevertheless dazzle.

The ten company members propel themselves through the one hour-eighteen minute piece with full energy, and except for a brief interlude in which additional people (supers) walk through, they are the whole of the work: the speakers, the dancers, the music-makers. At first one barely notices the entrance of the guitar player who begins the piece sitting facing away from us. He plays a sort of "white noise" strum and the sound level rises quickly to an unbearable level and then drops away. Marin establishes the repetitive canons that will appear throughout with figures walking in the simplest of patterns. She introduces the theme of communication in human interaction with a speech by one of the men, which begins, "Don't talk to me about what you are saying. I'm not asking you what you are saying. I'm asking how you are saying it." In the foreground, the dancers encounter and size up one another, and when they make eye contact, there is only dismissive vague curiosity, like isolated urbanites. Suddenly small spasms of movement in the individuals develop into a flocking run for no apparent reason. Runners pass or lag behind, grab at each other and we have, as yet, no idea if they are trying to help the others, or to hinder them. And then out of the chaos an order emerges, with interlocking patterns between small groups of the dancers.

Marin has a genuine sense of form, balancing her piece with a building of emotion and speed and then offering a release. The movements become progressively more athletic, but with only incidental guitar licks for background, the dancers must rely almost exclusively on the gestalt of the group to time simultaneous lifts, or jumps toward a partner. The picture they draw is one of a group of people driven by impulses beyond their control, but also people who literally breathe together. In one particularly effective section, the dancers lie on the floor side by side, and then move in canon, contracting and snaking on the ground like a giant shifting spinal column.

As the choreography unfolds, likewise, the monologues begin to weave new phrases and thoughts together, always embroidering on previous words. "Don't talk to me about what you are saying," now adds on the ironic," Others have said it before you…" From there, a subtle change takes place into an investigation of locality and points of origin, and from there, "what has been said… what hasn't been said… in the last 4 or 400 years…" The group forms into a military inspection, and then into a clearly aggressive contention, evoking images of the past several weeks of fighting in Palestine. Where have we come from, and how did we arrive HERE? Marin asks. Do we even remember what was said or not said? Does it even matter what was said 4 or 400 years ago? In the initial introduction of the subject/theme, the questions have a personal intimacy, like an argument between lovers. Slowly and inexorably, Marin expands the theme to encompass greater social and political issues.

In watching such beautifully strong dancers, who were so invested in the theatricality of the performance, it occurs to me that the weak link in the work was the music. The score by Denis Marriotte caters to a group of people with little guitar playing expertise, which means that in the end, the sound seems to contribute very little to the overall concept of the piece. And I admit that even for me, Points de fuite is long. What got me through is remembering that in a Marin piece, there is always a payoff at the end, a point where ideas and movement begin to come together to create a satisfying conclusion.

Even as you attempt to process the words and imagery, your own ruminations and questions begin to fill your mind. Marin exploits this by finally challenging the audience to consider what YOUR place in YOUR time will be. The dance shapes emphasize the tension between passivity and action, between moving forward and in reverse. Even when there is an air of stagnation, there is also the desperate sense of wanting to act, to move. Points de fuite fills the evening with such contradistinctions, both those presented on the stage, and our own responses. These provocations are the essence of what makes Marin's work endlessly fascinating.

 

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Edited by Marie.


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