Serious danger

Boris Charmatz & Dimitri Chamblas
"A bra-le-corps"
Danspace Project
New York, NY
October 26, 2006

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright 2006 by Lisa Rinehart

Dimitri Chamblas and Boris Charmatz are French intellectuals who like to get physical. Contradiction, you say? Not really. In 1993, 17-year-old Chamblas and 19-year-old Charmatz created the intimate and visceral "A bras le corps" as a challenge to the then visually baroque conventions of French contemporary dance. As teenagers are wont to do, they worked to be different, boxing the dance into a tight square of seats that literally put the action into the viewers' laps. They eschewed music, using only a few bits of Paganini in moments of stillness, and made the dance difficult enough to test the limits of their youthful bodies. They wore simple white pants and shirts, and wowed French audiences with a sweat soaked display of physicality often compared to a sparing match between friends. It was a big hit, and Chamblas and Charmatz could have easily started a company. Except they didn't want to be full-time choreographers. They wanted to be free to pursue other interests, dance with other companies, and to reunite periodically to perform the duet as they aged. They decided their teenage rebellion would be a litmus test, if you will, of their evolution as artists.

So it is that the now 30-year-old Chamblas, and 33-year-old Charmatz, are making their New York debut at St. Marks Church with a dance choreographed sixteen years ago. The structure of the duet remains the same. Observers are ushered to a square of seats as Chamblas and Charmatz warm up in the middle, and we, the audience, become a container for the dance's unfolding. The limits of that container are tested, however, as the two men thrust themselves toward, into, and onto audience members. The more lyrical Chamblas begins what becomes an animated danced conversation as Charmatz, an engaging and intensely physical performer, interjects with leaps as forceful as expletives. The men partner one another with virile efficiency, and the duet's power lays in the viewer's proximity to the performers' exertion.

In the performance I saw, however, Charmatz seemed intent on working himself into a lather that verged on uncontrolled aggression. One wondered what the agitation was about since Chamblas' more controlled energy didn't have the same animosity. (I should mention my perceptions are hopelessly skewed by the near death experience of Charmatz grabbing a viewer's boat-like loafer and lobbing it across the room, striking my hand and narrowly missing my head — but I'm not taking it personally)

Nonetheless, one wonders if, in an effort to make the choreography fresh for himself, Charmatz is pushing things in a dangerous direction. One has to question a piece's strength when shock tactics provide the biggest jolt of the evening. When asked about the shoe incident later, Charmatz confessed to having become addicted (his word choice) to the sensation of confronting the audience by pulling items from viewers and seeing what happens. (Lawsuits are what happens if you get into the habit of nearly decapitating potentially litigious New Yorkers — not me, mind you, but perhaps others less tolerant)

Randomness in non-improvisational dance can be revelatory (think Merce Cunningham), but Charmatz's actions have a desperation that underscores the duet's inherent choreographic flimsiness. Charmatz admits in a recent Time Out interview that he's not in love with the duet's choreography, finding it "old-fashioned," but wants to pursue the notion of keeping the steps unchanged as each performance breathes new life into the duet. Funny, I thought that's what happens whenever an artist performs a set work.

Fortunately, Chamblas and Charmatz are up to other things. Chamblas currently works in film, and Charmatz continues to push at boundaries with highly conceptual dance cum art installation works in which dancers are moved by machines. Sounds intriguing — and no flying footwear.

Photo of Boris Charmatz by Pierre Fabris.

Volume 4, No. 39
November 6, 2006

copyright ©2006 Lisa Rinehart



©2006 DanceView