National Theater, Taipei
March 30, 2019
There are all kinds of houses, says Christian Rizzo, artistic director of ICI-CCN Montpellier. Ones we find, ones we build, ones we leave. Concrete places and mental spaces. In his latest intriguing production, une maison, which received its French premiere only in early March, he shows us a group of individuals, a community of bodies, negotiating how to be together as they forge a house, a home.
It starts slowly. Above the stage sits a higgledy-piggledy construction of neon lights that bear down on proceedings below, where the stage is bare, save for an imposing mound of fine earth (Rizzo is also credited with the costumes, lighting and set). It is a striking picture. Hands on hips, a man in a white mask, shifts and turns very, very deliberately. It’s in silence but soon a soundtrack of rumbles, thuds and crackles starts. It asks questions and draws you in immediately.
More figures appear as this cool, strange world wakes up. The movement in une maison always has strength and intensity, but well before the end you can add plenty of energy too as it turns into a stream of vitality that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
The dance initially seems rather abstract but one slowly one sees moments, memories rather than in the here and now, that hint at micro-narratives between individuals. The choreography is insanely complex. Performers come and go, always with purpose. They meet and connect, they hug and part.
Everything flows seamlessly. Little unison duets and trios appear out of nowhere and dissolve just as quickly. It’s always on the move, there is always something to see, often something unexpected. Instants and scenes merge into one another with no obvious start or end. The movement vocabulary may be totally different but, in many ways, structurally especially, it is reminiscent of one of Merce Cunningham’s large-scale pieces; Summerspace or RainForest perhaps.
The performers often seem in a state of absence. When they are not moving, they stand, faces not blank but devoid of emotion. The eyes look but do not see. They are silent witnesses.
Sometimes people are pushed away and fall to the ground. But they do not react. A man hugs a woman. When she slips from his grasp and falls motionless, his doesn’t move at all. His arms remain in situ now holding nothing but air, or maybe a memory. Some of the others lay down around her, but that’s quite emotionless too, almost like they don’t know why they are doing it. It’s the opposite of what we expect. Yet, all the time, the cast are building relationships with each other and the space. We do not yet realise it, but they are very slowly building a community, a home.
About halfway through, a single white light appears like a moon casting shadows on the stage. As that mound of earth starts to be shovelled, it casts across the stage in glorious, cloudy, dusty, golden arcs. At first, it’s not even acknowledged by the others, but then some appear with white poles, spreading it, raking it flat, as if preparing the ground. Quite why they wear somewhat disturbing white pointed hats is unclear.
And then comes a cornucopia of colour. First a man in blue check shirt. The, one by one, the others reappear a rainbow of tops. As the earth continues to fly, there is much more overtly a sense of community, of coming together.
Job done, it ends almost playfully as the whole cast dance in a line, stepping sideways, holding hands, arms raised. They have a home: une maison. They are as one. Or almost ends. The cast don more masks: a horse’s head, that of a monkey, a skull, the devil. It is slightly disquieting as it turns into a strange ritual. He leaves us with a ghostly figure in white. It looks like something from Scooby Doo rather than connected with the rest of the piece, which is unfortunate, but is a nod to the fact that all homes have a past. Even newly constructed ones of whatever kind carry ghosts of those who built them, those who lived in them, those who have left them.