Review: Charleroi Danses - Kiss and Cry - Barbican Theatre

Performance: 25 - 28 June 2014
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Thursday 26 June 2014

Michèle Anne de Mey & Jaco Van Dormael & Collective, 'Kiss & Cry'
Photo: Marteen Van Abeele

Lots of people hold hands in the theatre or in the cinema, but any couples indulging in this casual affection at the Barbican Theatre this week might experience a heightened sense of the erotic feeling this can produce. This is due to the intricate enchantment worked upon the audience by Charleroi Danses’ production of Kiss & Cry. A piece that defies genre classification (an inspired curatorial choice for the London International Mime Festival of which it is a selection); Michele Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael’s original idea was initially developed for a cabaret evening. Years later it is brought to full scale life by the company, an epic choreographed romance danced quite literally, by hand.

We enter to see the stage strewn with what looks to be technological detritus, cameras and banks of computers; black clad technicians mill about beneath a large screen tinkering with their gadgets as though behind the scenes on a sound stage, which except for the ‘behind’ part, they are. One of these figures, De Mey – whose enraptured facial expressions, as well as her expressive hands, are a joy to watch throughout – is busily wiggling her fingers like a cartoon pianist warming up for a recital. When the silver screen fades up it is filled with a live-feed shot transmitted from a camera we see right in front of us, stealthily crossing the stage, approaching one of many tiny tabletop sets. We are transported by the movement of the shot, drawn into this fragile world that looms larger than life-size in crisp brilliant colour above. The fantasy of it is oddly made all the more vivid somehow by the fact that we can see how it’s being done. Here in close up we witness the first of many whimsical, but surprisingly balletic and sexy duets between the hands of De Mey herself and dancer Gregory Grosjean.

The story of an old woman, Gisele, who sits forlornly at a rail station, reminiscing about her five lost loves (like the five fingers on a hand), is told in voiceover. More thrillingly though, it is shown, in fascinating dollhouse tableaux and the clever positioning and manipulation of bite-sized objects. The roving eye of the camera and its often improbable angles is as much a choreographic device as the pirouetting, ice skating, lovemaking hands, which in addition to dancing, trudge through sand, drown in water, or evolve primordially through soapy swirls of goo. Although the story is serviceably romantic and ethereal, the most exciting aspect to the work is a feeling that we are witnessing the fashioning of a new medium, cobbled together from puppetry, choreography, old fashioned Victorian stagecraft spectacle and the modern ubiquity of cinematic scope and perspective. Kiss & Cry is a veritable Gesamtkunstwerk in magnified miniature, in which the High Definition technology disappears to reveal a delicacy of theatrical magic.

Continues at the Barbican Theatre until Sat 28 June

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College.

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