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Beyond Words

Get your imaginations out: the case for a performance cure in Paris [by Paul Tracy Danison]


Cleidat&Les Merveilles©Yvan Clédat
"Les Merveilles", Clédat&Petitpierre. Photo© Y.Clédat

Belmondo is dead!

I’ve put up mosquito netting around the bed to protect Karine and, though mosquitoes have heretofore been thought to turn their proboscises from a knave’s corruption, to protect myself. At 06.30 hours in the second week of September, at 48.8566° N, the sky already lours hot and grey. At 08.00 hours, as I set out Karine’s tisane, the celestial scowl disperses before a pitiless sun. Heretofore, the sun trope has been stock for bright Timbuktu, not gray Paris.

As the day smolders towards evening, showers of hot, fat raindrops eruct; the drops are heavy enough to slap, all too apt to turn to hail.

About 40 years ago now, an article in the NYRB observed that the only known example of a planet-scale runaway greenhouse effect is Venus. It is 800°Celsius inside the planet’s perpetual methane-cum-co2 self-generating storm system. “Self-generating storm system” suggests to me that the milder effects coming up here on Earth are more likely to have driven our species to extinction well before things get as warmed up and wild as on our sister planet.

If the pandemic has proved anything at all, it’s that pure motives and reasonable plans notwithstanding, changing circumstances and a full third of people will oppose you and your damnable, liberty-killing plans.

Cleidat&panique! (© y.clédat)
"Panique", Clédat&Petitpierre. Pan cannot play his pipes yet. He can get on his legs and hump. Some say Pan is the son of Hermès. Photo©Y.Clédat

No matter that denying climate change has clearly failed to prevent obvious and dangerous climate change. The third is now spreading the depressing lie that it’s too late to act against the inevitable catastrophe: Be free! Consume, for tomorrow you die! When the depression tactic fails, the third will turn to applauding sabotage. Out of a spite that the third will dress up as an understandable “human need for revenge”.

As Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and He is Us”.

Given the complexity of the phenomenon and the human challenge, the junk exercise of “thinking outside the box” won’t do.  Positivism backed by little hops in good, solid science by good people just will not compass hot spells that cripple the young and kill the old or cold snaps that can freeze-dry woolly mammoths. Nor can solid science by good people inspire the Trotsky-like determination to execute and defend a social action plan that might let the species survive in the face of immanent catastrophe.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation story, the shower-obsessed space buccaneer hero Trevor is given a choice between melding with Earth and or remaining a “free” individual, “remaining human”. Trevor chooses to remain a space buccaneer hero, rejecting sexual freedom and powerful women, and flying off to conquer the universe and become as gods, presumably. 

"Les Mariés", Clédat&Petitpierre. Parc de Bercy. Photo©Y.Clédat

Asimov was presenting the choice and the outcome as most of the species still frames it (for more on this type of stuff, see my essay on ordinary-folks’ philosopher Michel Onfray’s otherwise inexplicable hatred of Greta Thunberg).

Of course, the real choice the species is confronted with is not “remaining ‘human’”. And it doesn’t imply becoming as gods and flying off to terraform Mars or capture comets. It’s about saving our species from its self-definition of itself thus far. The choice to be made is more like taking an engineering post or not at General Electric’s silicon plant in Waterford, New York, to feed and house and educate a large, varied and troublesome family than being or not a space buccaneer out to conquer the universe. Do we take up, or not, the responsibility for the complex system we call “Earth”?  The bottom line is: Is the species a variable, like Trevor, along for the ride, or do it strive to become a constant, co-responsible with system Earth? I’ve voted for co-responsibility.

And now the only way forward is Imagination.

Imagination is the seed of the leaps in outlook and science that our species needs to decide what to do. Imagination is the wit to, or the unbearable lightness of heart to, rip up the box just outside of which we’ve been orbiting too long, click together those ruby slippers and choose.

From scratch.

Not by chance, the function of dance is to enable Imagination.

"Les Baigneurs”, Clédat&Petitpierre. Taking some sun in the Jardin de Reuilly, Paris.

Hegel (or is it Kant?) was right: our species does have a mechanics of the whole that spontaneously responds to our collective becoming. Since the art of dance is the seed of Imagination, dance – and, so, as I’ve argued, dance-performance–  has been growing ever more present in our lives. It is no accident, either, that the most popular and practiced form of dance – hip-hop – is a values set and global movement that touches on every aspect of a free and responsible life among equals.

This idea came to me this past weekend.

I had decided to watch the six well-crafted performances by the veteran troupe Clédat & Petitpierre. The troupe opened the Atelier de Paris’ 2021-22 season, which, like many other venues, is full of lots of post-pandemic treats.

Fun, clever and beautifully made, Clédat & Petitpierre performance systematically achieves art as well as entertainment. In conception, the river is always flowing, Schrödinger’s Cat is shamming and not. Each performance is on the real event horizon. Sensibilities are engaged. Feeling is studied and distinct. Territory engaged transforms spectator into participant.

As I watched and ruminated on this, I realized that as each of the troupe’s performances was able to achieve the quality of art, it enabled access to Imagination in its participants.

As the mechanics of the whole and becoming would have it, quality performance such as Clédat & Petitpierre’s, along with increasingly strong performance programming  have made Paris, and France, a showcase for performance and dance performance.

Cleidat&La parade© Y.Clédat
Allons'y! By tingling in the monkeys' thumbs, Imagination this way comes”. "La Parade Moderne", Clédat&Petitpierre, opened the Atelier de Paris’ 2021-22 season. Photo©Y.Clédat

Performance and dance performance from small, developer-feeder venues such as Atelier de Paris, Regard du Cygne or Le Générateur, local theaters in and outside central Paris and in the regions and even the national dance theater are making city and country a must-do destination for the Imagination cure the species will be needing through the years to come.

January 05, 2022

December 31, 2021

December 10, 2021

November 25, 2021

October 28, 2021

October 07, 2021

September 10, 2021

September 04, 2021

August 18, 2021

August 10, 2021

August 06, 2021

June 17, 2021

May 13, 2021

April 25, 2021

March 03, 2021

February 17, 2021

February 01, 2021

December 05, 2020

October 15, 2020

October 06, 2020

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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