Review: Compagnie Beau Geste in Transports Exceptionnels at London Fields

Performance: 18 Oct 08
Reviewed by Mary Kate Connolly - Monday 20 October 2008

Compagnie Beau Geste 'Transports Exceptionnels' 11-13 and 17-19 October. Photo: Tony Shepherd

It is crisp and autumnal as I stand shivering in London Fields late on Saturday afternoon. A crowd of onlookers, young and old, have amassed to form a large circle on the leaf strewn grass, leaving a sizeable gap on one side, for the performers who are due at any moment. Presently without ceremony, a gigantic gleaming yellow digger with mirrored glass windows appears, nonchalantly rolling through the gap to come to a halt centre-stage. A man dressed smartly in black trousers, black gloves and smart white shirt appears, alighting casually from the digger cab to stroll away, until mysteriously…the digger begins to move…

So began Transports Exceptionnels, a disarming and poetic duet for one man and his 13 tonne digger. Haunting strains of an opera aria echoed on the chill air as the man slowly edged closer, knelt on one knee with arm outstretched to the majestic machine, and finally leapt onto the robotic arm to be swept skyward, and propelled in an elegant arc.

Compagnie Beau Geste returned to Dance Umbrella following the acclaim Transports received at last year’s festival, and despite having heard about the performance last year, which gave me a relatively clear idea of what it might entail, the spectacle felt nonetheless fresh, and strangely moving. The outdoor setting stepped up to the occasion magnificently, with watery afternoon sunshine, and whirling golden leaves playing leading, evocative roles in the display. The playful (but not slapstick) tension between man and machine also upped the ante, making for moments of soaring romance in the swirling lifts, and equally nail-biting lurches when the digger would swipe lethally close and the man would recoil from its grasp with inches to spare.

The danger (apart from the obvious physical one) of a performance such as this one is that the drama is all in the concept, with failure to launch from there. Not so with *Transports Exceptionnels* – in addition to the musicality and aesthetic lines of the piece, there was also a steady dramatic progression throughout which surged on to a dramatic climax with the man, spent from his exertions, finally folding into the scoop of the digger; a willing and exhausted prisoner at last.

In Transports there was romance, brutal power, wonderment, and charm. Even more pleasing however, was the fact that these were packaged so quirkily; a peculiar interplay between a man and a digger, on a sunny autumnal afternoon.

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