Philippe Decouflé is the French theatrical magician who has previously brought to life an encyclopedia of imaginary animals (in Codex/Tricodex), delved into the secret life of shadows (Sombrero), and created the delightfully bonkers opening ceremony for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. His works are hard to classify, straddling the boundaries between dance, cabaret, comedy and contemporary theatre with a healthy dash of stage artifice and visual trickery.Contact, a show about sixteen performers putting on a very loose adaptation of Faust, is no different in this regard – a melange of skits, spectacle and silliness sprinkled with moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty.
Contact opens with a fluid solo for dancer Eric Martin. Dressed in a spangled tailsuit and coiffed to look just like Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Martin glides bonelessly across the forestage with a sliding variation that’s equal parts Broadway jazz and the new streetdance style of floating. As other company members filter in behind him, the pulsing sounds played live by musicians Nosfell and Pierre Le Bosfell ramp up from sparse synth percussion to a richer full-bodied soundtrack.
Contact makes mesmerising use of its cast’s many talents. Julien Ferrantishows himself to be as adapt with a countertenor vibrato as he is dancing the lindy hop; Violette Wanty joins circus-trainedSuzanne Soler for an aerial duet on bungee chords; and the exotically limber Sean Patrick Mombrunowinds himself athletically into a small box as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Lines between disciplines are blurred; musicians join in sections of dance, dancers erupt into song, and everyone is swept into the comic dialogue between the refreshingly older performers Stéphane Chivot andChristophe Salengro.
Decouflé has a similarly boundary-blurring approach to movement, with nods toMGM musicals, lively partner dance and Bauschian parade all in the choreographic blender. A lengthy dance-battle sequence recalls West Side Story; a thrilling corde lisse solo for Soler finds the acrobat whipped around at terrifying speeds (for me; clearly Soler herself has no fear). Dance scenes are frequently accompanied by live-captured video effects designed by Olivier Simola; the live action onstage is blown up onto the back wall, looped, inverted and fractured into kaleidoscopic effects that recall Busby Berkeley’s bathers in glorious technicolor.
If there’s a criticism to be made about Contact, it’s that the loose narrative of a troupe performing a strangely modified version of Faust isn’t coherent enough to frame the work effectively, and towards the comic vignettes occasionally distract from the otherwise hypnotic dance sequences. There’s a definite drop in energy towards the end as well, with the last twenty minutes feeling decidedly saggy; a sequence articulating a mathematical proof of God suffers either from sound problems or lack of rehearsal, as the unison is less taut here than elsewhere in the show for both speakers and dancers.
Overall, however, Contact is as full of strange delights as the company’s previous outings. Bizarre, otherworldly and beautiful – in other words, business as usual for the Gallic maverick.
Originally published at londondance.com