Review: Boris Charmatz - Musée de la danse — danse de nuit

Performance: 17 - 20 May
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 22 May 2017

Boris Charmatz’s dance de nuit is no easy theatrical experience but this is what I both love and dislike about the show. With immersive dance you expect theatrical conventions to be challenged and for boundaries between performer and spectator to be dismantled but this work pushes both parties out of their comfort zones.

After finding the venue, a multi-story car park in a new-build business park on the outskirts of Stratford, the audience huddles together in an underpass which shelters us from the pouring rain. It feels like an artificial urban environment, anonymous and soulless in the dark, empty evening.

Charmatz’s assemblage of dancers plunge into our midst, talking animatedly on a range of topics – political cartoons, terrorism, sleep and danger – using fragments of texts by writers such as Tim Etchells. These semi-coherent utterings chaotically mesh with the performers’ in-coherent language sounds that have emerged from prior improvisations. In their ranting, which at times is angry and forceful they build a sustained, punchy rhythm similar to that of beat-boxing or rapping.

In visceral response to their verbal soundtrack, the dancers display a hyper-expressive dance vocabulary of flailing movements, athletic leaps and dare-devil lunges. Bodies are hurled way from and into the concrete ground, fuelled by explosive, tense energy. It’s exciting but also scary as they fearlessly barge through the audience, nudging us to one side or herding us forcibly out of the way, creating an atmosphere of dangerous suspense. Treatment of the audience is unforgiving. While Charmatz’s company are a group of charismatic individuals, with idiosyncratic dress and dance styles, they position us as a random crowd of faceless people. There’s no eye contact, no personal connection, in spite of our close physical proximity.

Although there are moments of stillness and reflective calm, there’s a violence throughout the work that manifests itself not only through text and action but also through interactions between the performers themselves: a woman is dragged along by her hair while being simultaneously groped by another; a man crouches down and fires an imaginary gun at the others who pose as dead celebrities. It’s a nightmarish world of riddles and cartoons.

Lighting by Yves Godin is a brilliant component of the show and effectively contributes to the sense of anxsty confusion. Four performers carry panels of intense light and move fluidly among us, further breaking down the division between spectator and performer. Although non-threatening, there is something menacing about them, like police on patrol as they guide us towards or away from the action.

Charmatz succeeds in producing a harsh and questioning work which responds to the violence and uncertainty of the current cultural climate. However, while it fascinates, it also alienates.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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