Feature: Is You Me

Tuesday 3 May 2011

To call the four artists involved in the Dance Umbrella presentation Is You Me (The Place, 24 & 25 Oct 2011) accomplished is an understatement writes Donald Hutera…

Consider first the two dancers, Louise Lecavalier and Benoît Lachambre.
Between 1981 and 1998 Lecavalier was the muse of Edouard Lock, choreographer of the acclaimed French-Canadian company La La La Human Steps. With her flying platinum blonde mane and fearlessly sexy, almost punitive physicality she made an indelible impression in show after show. Additional gigs with the likes of David Bowie (watch her twirling around him in the Fame music video) and Frank Zappa only add to her lustre.

As for Lachambre, he’s a bona fide wild man of both the Canadian and international dance scenes. His combinations of edgy contemporary movement and interdisciplinary experimentation have bagged him a shelf of awards including a Bessie, the highest accolade bestowed by New York’s downtown performance network.

For visual and aural spice you can add the names Laurent Goldring and Hahn Rowe. Based in Paris, Goldring studied philosophy before turning to photography, video and media art. Among his collaborators is the brainy French scientist turned dancer and choreographer Xavier Le Roy. Rowe, meanwhile, is a New York violinist, guitarist and record producer who’s worked with Moby, Antony and the Johnsons, David Byrne and R.E.M. He’s also composed scores for film and dance, notably with the envelope-pushing American expatriate choreographer Meg Stuart.

Dance Umbrella 2011. 'Is You Me' Louise Lecavalier/Beno?t Lachambre/Laurent Goldring/Hahn Rowe. The Place, 24 & 25 Oct. In 2008 this gifted quartet concocted an approximately hour-long multi-media performance called *Is You Me. The title is perhaps an off-shoot of *I Is Memory, an earlier solo that Lachambre made for and with Lecavalier. It was Lachambre, too, who suggested that he and Lecavalier could work with Golring and Rowe on a bigger, second project.

The result is a seamlessly choreographed action painting, staged with an almost epic simplicity. A free-standing, highly raked stage is positioned before a cycloramic backdrop. Both surfaces are white. Into – or, better, onto – this pristine canvas come two human beings who doff and don hoodies and tracksuit bottoms that at first tend to be black or white. This origami-like pair comes and goes, sliding and swivelling about, gesticulating exaggeratedly or executing spasmodic steps like animated stick figures or living avatars. Sometimes, too, they are either upright or prone but, most significantly, still. Layered and washed atop their bodies is an ever-morphing series of digital graphics – slashing lines or erasures, confetti-like dots or a fly-like cursor, rough bird or dragon shapes, spiralling tunnels and colour tints encompassing brown, yellow, purple-red and green.

It’s as if the stage has becomes a giant Etch-a-Sketch, only more sophisticated and interactive. There is also some brief film footage; one sequence was shot from behind a windscreen as a vehicle drove down a rainy motorway, while another features sheep jumping off a hillock of sand or maybe hay. Occasionally the darkness wins as the entire stage is wiped out by blackness.

As for the soundtrack, we hear everything from fat, throbbing dance beats, vibrating hums and distorted raps to alarming whines, buzzing tones and snatches of astral jazz. Altogether it’s a sound-and-vision extravaganza.

Dance Umbrella 2011. 'Is You Me' Louise Lecavalier/Beno?t Lachambre/Laurent Goldring/Hahn Rowe. The Place, 24 & 25 Oct. The four artists involved are, unsurprisingly, such busy people that only two of them responded to questions about Is You Me sent via email. Goldring was the first to reply, cheekily answering all interrogations with quotes from Shakespeare. ‘It’s short,’ he explained, ‘and sometimes it fits well with the question.’ [See his original Bard-borrowed comments in the footnotes below.]

In a later, less oblique email Goldring ‘fessed up that the initial impulse behind Is You Me ‘was to put the emphasis on drawing as movement, and in relation to movement as form. Since at that time I was working on a film based on Marcel Proust, I said that I wanted the work with Louise and Benoit to be connected with Proust. They both agreed. But the finished piece has no connection whatever with Proust. It was just a trick to make me sign up with them.’

Asked how many times Is You Me has been presented, and where, plus what kinds of reactions it has elicited, Goldring replied: ‘127 times in 69 towns in 34 countries. Everybody seemed to be happy except a guy once in Vienna, but we discovered later that he was drunk.’

Whether or not those numbers are accurate, obviously the man has an almost frighteningly precise sense of humour.

Lecavalier, on the other hand, has lost count of how many times Is You Me has been publicly performed. Fifty, she estimates? No matter. It is, she says, great fun to do and remains a challenge, too, regardless of the fact that it is a ‘set’ rather than improvised performance. ‘Once we found what worked best,’ she says, ‘we decided to stick with it – the same cues and mostly the same detailed drawings on the canvas, especially because Benoit and I cannot clearly see the whole floor and backdrop while we are onstage in our hoodies.’ She regards their garb as one of the best means to ‘survive’ the drawings. ‘One small stroke of the pen on the pad can fill the whole stage very fast and is very catchy for the eye. The live performers could’ve easily disappeared, and that would have been a problem.’ To counter this, Lecavalier reveals, she and Lachambre have to ‘adapt to a flat, two-dimensional world by becoming simpler and moving more roughly and in a very grounded, readable style.’

‘It was trickier to work with drawings than to work with music,’ Lecavalier continues ‘but once we found our direction the work was offering us many interesting possibilities.’ She believes the three major elements – live performance plus varied digital graphics and music – are equally present in the entire performance. ‘That is rare, I think. We didn’t search hard to make it even or equal, it simply developed like that. We followed the path that opened in front of us, or we made a path happen.’

It’s a path that Dance Umbrella’s more adventurous audience members will also have a fine time following.

Catch Is You Me at The Place, Mon 24 & Tue 25 Oct.
More details on www.danceumbrella.co.uk

FOOTNOTES:

How seamless a collaboration is it? **_’To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,_
_Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.’ _
__”Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19 – 28“:http://www.enotes.com/macbeth-text/3369#tomorrow

How do you all know each other and how did this performance come to exist? **_’All the world’s a stage,_
And all the men and women merely players.’
__”As You Like It Act 2, scene 7, 139 – 143“:http://www.enotes.com/ayli-text/act-ii-scene-7#stage

What is the creative engine that drives this production? **_’And one man in his time plays many parts,_
His acts being seven ages.’
__”As You Like It Act 2, scene 7, 139 – 143“:http://www.enotes.com/ayli-text/act-ii-scene-7#stage

How many times has it been presented, where, and what kinds of reactions have you had from what kinds of people? **_’What a piece of work is a man.’_
__”Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303 – 312“:http://www.enotes.com/hamlet-text/act-ii-scene-ii?start=3#ham-2-2-311

How different – or not – is the movement, soundtrack and visuals each time it is performed? **_’We are such stuff_
As dreams are made on.’
__”The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148 – 158“:http://www.enotes.com/tempest-text/act-iv-scene-i?start=2#tem-4-1-166

Are there things about the production that you are continuing to discover, or elements inside it that are still being worked out? **_’Nothing can come of nothing: speak again.’_
__”King Lear (I, i, 92)“:http://www.enotes.com/kl-text/act-i-scene-i?start=1#kin-1-1-94

How would you describe it to someone who has not heard or read anything about it? **_’O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!’_
__”King Richard III (V, iii, 179)“:http://www.enotes.com/richard-text/37575#conscience

if this performance had a smell (or smells), what would it (they) be? **_’What’s in a name? That which we call a rose _
By any other name would smell as sweet.’
__”Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)“:http://www.enotes.com/romeo-text/act-ii-scene-ii#rom-2-2-45

Lachambre/Lecavalier/Goldring/Rowe – Is You Me from Dance Umbrella on Vimeo

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