“It used to be that the scene faded out when people decided to have sex”, I told our table partners, making sure to send a dark look in Karine’s direction – I’m never quite sure how the woman might take my gassing. Worse still, hers often turns out to be an understanding closer to the truth than my own.
“Fading sex out of the picture and saying it was happening has been dam’ useful”. I leered at ‘em in Flashman style, putting a glass of vino to my smacking lips. I went on to say that putting aside the broader truth that there can be no unfortunate or costly errors of appreciation in the dark, sexual fade-out killed at least three other birds with a single, inexpensive, consensual hallucination.
Sexual fade-out allowed intellectuals and actors to think themselves racy and avant-garde, satisfied the censors’ guild as to their liberalism and titillated the spectator.
All without challenging a single attitude.
Of course, today’s “fade in” techniques – actually, “unfading out” –, in which lots of irrelevant but apparently sex-related stuff is played upon the stage, challenges no attitudes either.
I mean “attitude” in the sense of trajectory adjustments, as for a rocket launcher or tank barrel, but applied to the human psyche: “Attitude, n., 15th c., Late Latin, “aptitudo”, tech., term of art: mental geometry relative to the projection of belief, value, idea, thought & action into the real world.
It’s the beginning of the 2018-19 school year and a ministerial circular is reminding school principals that the 2001 law requiring three “sexuality” classes a year in each school grade has not been implemented. Its opponents are able to raise a furore by claiming schools will “teach masturbation”. Science & Avenir pointed out in its summer issue that the only publically available correct anatomical drawing of a clitoris appeared in a French middle-school text book in 2017 (Wikipedia says a first correct anatomical drawing appeared in 1844).
Cynic that I have been made out to be, I fear that even a real anatomical drawing of a real clitoris won’t change any social attitudes, or the human trajectory, even if it’s in an approved textbook, even published in Wikipedia and even for those, apparently few, who have had actual sex with actual women, even for individual masturbating females, victims of a liberal educational system.
Believe it as you will, but I’ve been thinking of all this because Karine and I were to see a four-bill show at the Opéra Palais Garnier*. The show was opened by James Thierrée’s Frolons, sustained by Ivan Pérez’ The Male Dancer & Hofesh Schechter’s The Art of Not Looking Back and closed with Crystal Pite’s Season’s Canon, which premiered last year. It was real fun. I reckon dance, after all, does corrupt and, like concupiscent thought, corrupts so pleasantly, you hardly notice.
As we milled around the vestibules wondering how the bill was going to roll out, a crackly voice from the PA began crying, “Keep moving – Plenty to see here.” So we did, up and down and around the monumental stairways and landings and spaces. We saw plenty, too.
Thierrée’s idea is that moving is a good thing, even when you can’t see the quarks for the protons or turn anything into a satisfactory sex toy.
The Frôlons (something like Touch it) play notes frame the idea pretty well. “Move, Ladies, Gentlemen, Beasts, Monsters and Creatures of our imagination… Move … The time is now to clearly confront the unknown that devours shadow and light, to light the eye in the depth of the pit! …”.
As atomic theory has shown, but Thierrée’s moving idea only modestly suggests, moving is change and vice versa, as well as a paralell steady state. As an advertisement might put it, moving is what we are (“are” meaning “do”).
Frôlons uses décor, in this case Palais Garnier’s Napoléonic Baroque décor, in the same way that the producers of the 60s TV show Belphégor did, using the incredible notoriety of a well-known place, along with a liberal splash of Brueghel-style strange-iconography and moving, to create mystery. Belphégor, for whom the show was named, is the demon of get-rich schemes.
And as we together gawked, Karine and I, gorgeousness caromed gorgeously. In the monumental stairways, -wells, vestibules, bars and foyers, along long halls and balconies where we went to see, puissant, masked figures dressed in flakes of gold and flashing jewels and silky obsidian swarmed spider-like or loped, as sure-footed as tigers. Handsome ringmasters in evening clothes kept disorder by shining their flashlights, pointing, explaining, pushing, shoving.
Karine, straining on tiptoe to see all around, stuttered, “O! Those bodies!”.
Then, two subtly dangerous golden lizards, all sensual muscle and meat, long scales scintillating, tails aswishing, romped through the stairwells, nudged and fascinated the swarming horde of… of… of… bodies into a coherent herd and disappeared them into a small door, by that time resembling for all the world Hell’s portal.
Where the hell can our seats be? I’m thinking. Karine hoarsely whispers, “May you have a gig at the opera.” She squeezes my hand. I squeeze hers right back – You, too.
All the same, Thierrée moved us, but did not launch us.
Crystal Pite did that, at the end.
Theorists might theorize that maybe it was Thierrée’s exciting liquors and Perez’ and Schechters’ slantendicular amusements that got us loose enough to hop, all buttock and no brain, on Pite’s flight. But I think not.
And it’s not just me that thinks not. Pite’s piece, which followed on Schechter’s and Pérez’, not got four vigorous, spontaneous, curtain calls. Her Canon left people glancing at each other, rather god-smacked and they did and were at the premier, too.
Yes, Crystal Pite Season’s Canon is brilliant. There is a combination of professionalism – Pite’s performers move flawlessly – and creative noos – choreography that always lines up with the underlying sense of the piece…
I asked Karine where she supposed Pite sat to compose Season’s. She replied that certainly it was from where we were sitting, way up high where the real audience sits. For instance, consider the universal popularity of Max Richter’s rework of Vivaldi’s ever-popular Four Seasons for her theme, she said.
If Karine’s right, then Pite knows the secret for transposing perfect self-concentration on the collective consciousness. I think she does.
Just seconds before my consciousness turned to ragged clouds and my pencil fell from my hand, I felt my heart beat, once, hard. I was aware of Karine next to me and at the same time, way down there where once was Hell, I saw a man picking up a woman and knew that picking Karine up just like that made her mine forever. Whatever conclusion I might draw from sense, it was Season’s Canon that enabled it.
So, Pite’s piece is brilliant, and the other three are merely right or good; the binary nature of creation makes it that such a difference exists.
In dance at least, this means that the good are those performances that belong to what you might call the “moving of wishes” (in two subsets: “moving of ideas” and “moving of values”) and the brilliant are those performances that belong to “moving of attitudes” (in two subsets: “moving of feeling” and “moving of sense”).
Karine’s and my breathless moment of tender wishes explained: Thierrée knows how to put on a show that includes the atomic structure of the place he’s at as well as where he wants to go and how so – right ideas, right stuff, right execution. Such rightness – kairos – as you might say, means we experience “moving of feeling”.
While Thierrée’s piece is right, Schechter’s and Pérez’ are good. Schecter is a master of moving, in the same professional category as Pite and he’s as good a showman as Thiérrée any day. The gender-exploring Ivan Pérez is pushes on interesting buttons. But each performance, once experienced, boils down to mere content, “moving of wishes”: The Art of Not Looking Back turns out a demonstration of “moving of ideas”, Perez’, a demonstration of “moving of values.”
Because I have a keyboard and know how to use it and, in hopes of elucidating the notion of good as a moving of wishes, I bring in evidence Schechter’s Show, at the Théâtre des Abbesses in April 2018, a premier in France.
“Dance”, says a quote in the play note, “… is an extreme art that consumes the performer in a burst of emotional flame.” Show – in its own frame as excellent a spectacle as Thierrée’s Frolons – is a tribute to his developing dancers, a demonstration of their “consummation”. Within an uninspiring techno-beat-style sound track, Schechter’s second string performers form into a long series of intense “interactions” between a fluctuating number of gangs, from which particularly aggressive individuals surge forward briefly to do triumphant murder – shooting or throat cutting.
As in politics, the gangs eventually coagulate into – self-defining – killers and killed.
In all his performances, Schechter is a mover of strong imagery that sticks to the spirit. The one I’ve kept from Show is a performer who cuts the throat of a rival. As the rival’s body falls bonelessly to the floor, resolute, she turns on her heel and struts off. Her ass churns attractively, seems to glow red-hot, like a sated bonobo alpha going for a pee after group-grope.
Show was good, but not right. I felt it – I trembled with anxiety – but changed no trajectories – I tapped my foot with annoyance but no outrage.
The audience loved it. But, so what?
“Well, anyhow,” I sneered to Karine, “I guess we humans really are only really interested in winning and fucking.”
Looking artlessly back at me, with an unpleasantly scratchy laugh, Karine replied, “Did you see fucking?”
* Performance 23 May 2018