Xavier Le Roy at Festival d’Avignon

by Julie Solovyeva, September 2011

There has been much discussion of a particular situation-ism with respect to the visual, time-based and performing arts. Established categories of conceptual art, performance or dance can become burdensome, but artists and critics alike bravely qualify these works as none other than situations. As creative practices have become increasingly fragmentary, splitting and reflecting the paradigms of postmodernism to the nth degree, so has spectatorship modified its highly attuned focus to demand the effective delivery of various art messages. Museums, galleries, concert halls, temporary stages and exhibitions are almost always complicit when it comes to the textual paraphernalia that can manifest as informational plaques mounted on walls, innumerable  programs, maps and, of course, catalogues. Yet, in the frenzy of a large festival one might choose to forfeit it all for the diversion of an encounter—that is the situation each scheduled event presents.

Last month, Festival d’Avignon presented a few such instances including the visual work of Tino Sehgal appropriately titled This Situation, Meg Stuart’s intensely physical Violet, and Romeo Castellucci’s politically conscious and somewhat controversial examination of familial relationships in Sur le concept de visage de fils de Dieu. However, a subdued yet moving work entitled low pieces was conceived by Xavier Le Roy, a French biochemist-cum-choreographer who has redefined contemporary thought regarding dance and movement.

Le Roy has been working at the conjunction of interdisciplinary research to explore the possibility of knowledge production via body and movement. His earlier work deals primarily with dislocations and disjunctions of body trajectory in space, particularly in pieces such as self-unfinished (1998) and Product of Circumstances (1999), in which he proposes a further simplification and mechanization of everyday task-oriented movement originally pioneered by Yvonne Rainer in the 1960s and 70s. With low pieces, Le Roy adjusts his investigative approach in an attempt to question the creative and collaborative processes and communication as a whole.

We enter the performance space, piling in closely on the makeshift seating arrangements of a small intimate auditorium at the Gymnase du lycée Mistral.  The room is evenly lit, and the stage is comprised of the floor, walls and ceiling which are all painted black. The only thing one can clearly discern is the presence of bodies: the members of the audience are on the bleachers, and the dancers sit pensively at the front of the stage. There is a voyeuristic atmosphere—as a viewer one becomes completely engulfed in this reciprocal observation.

As soon as we are settled, or rather squeezed, into a space that is unusually close to the performance, a man on stage begins to speak. Le Roy proposes that the audience begin a conversation without any particular topic or purpose—no amplified sound, just an exchange of ideas. He also offers to translate French to English, or vice versa. He informs us that after fifteen minutes the lights will be shut off, but not to be afraid because the show will go on.

The audience is curious to learn the objective behind this strange exercise. It begins to resemble a game with unspoken rules to which all adapt their behavior: taking turns in speaking, making your voice heard, trying to develop a sensible sentence or conversation in a nonsensical set of circumstances. The lights go off but the murmuring voices continue, and we remain ensnared by the game.

It may be assumed that the appearance of language in dance and movement-based practice is a regressive step away from the purity of classical form and towards theatricality. But this conversation suggests the potential of language to provoke thought. In a darkened room, one can only distinguish one’s own presence by making one’s voice heard.

low pieces continues in silence: four sequential dance episodes, which captivate and then clear our minds, drawing us to a more physical presence. The duration of the performance challenges the viewer’s patience. However, if one is disciplined enough, then the last part of the performance is a reward. Le Roy draws the audience out of the spectator’s passive cultural consumption. We are no longer mere observers witnessing the magic moment of creation, but instead we are challenged and incorporated into the aesthetic experience itself.

low pieces
Performances : 19—25 July 2011
Festival d’Avignon