A performance company can work its ass off to bring the audience closer. Often that's accomplished by systematically destroying the theater's barriers: seating the audience on stage, moving the performers into the audience, bringing the performance closer, leaving the house lights on, etc. Effective, sure, but those acts can sometimes lead to an anxious, uncomfortable audience. Also, such methods often leave much to be desired in the realm of elegance.
Jérôme Bel’s Cédric Andrieux is masterful in the way it cultivates the intimacy between audience and performer, the self same Andrieux; we are brought together so elegantly, so softly, that before long we're perched on Andrieux's every breath and gesture.
Not a bad feat for a performance I can best describe as a one man A Chorus Line, but without all the singing and wah-wah pedal.
Of course, the performance is built out of little more than breath and gesture. So there is very little for the audience to cling to really, aside from Andrieux's soft, almost bashful narrative—the story of how he came to be a modern dancer, training for some time with the aged, legendary American choreographer Merce Cunningham.
The fact is, it could be so easy for a piece like this to go wrong. All it is, really, is talking interspersed with section of solo dance unaccompanied by music. And that shit could get insanely boring. But Bel, who thrilled me with 2008's Pichet Klunchun and Myself is a master at pacing; as Andrieux moves from childhood dance classes, to the French dance conservatory, to New York, Bel has teased enough humor and vulnerability from the narrative, that it never really lags.
Bel does employ some tricks here. The most effective of these is Andrieux's close miking which allows us to hear every swallow and labored breath as he moves through the insanely difficult choreography of Merce Cunningham, for instance. The technique creates wonderful moments of tension, that are almost brutal as we sit and Andrieux catch his breath, sip water, regain his composer.
It helps too that Andrieux's story is like a bridge between modes of modern dance divided by the turn of the century. As personal as the performance is, it also acts as a kind of living time capsule—with choreography of the past held deep in Andrieux's muscles and memory.
At the turn of the performance, when Bel exploits his cultivated intimacy, surprising the audience by suddenly placing them beneath Andrieux's watchful gaze, it doesn't feel necessarily uncomfortable. In fact, it feels only fair.
With all that being said, is it any good? Yes. If you are fan of modern dance, it's necessary viewing. But even if you're not, it's worth it to get to know Cédric Andrieux.
The performance continues tonight and tomorrow, 8:30 pm, at the Winningstad theater.