Standing backstage before a momentous premiere, the question of a piece’s shelf life runs through every choreographer’s mind. Will the work peter out after a few performances or will it be canonized into the greats of dance? In 1981, when French choreographer Maguy Marin revealed May B, she had no way of knowing how long a life the piece would have. In the three plus decades since, contemporary dance has evolved immeasurably.
Trends have come and gone, but May B has remained relevant and intriguing all the while.
Next week, Marin will bring her company to Israel for the first time to perform May B as part of the annual and extra-festive Tel Aviv Dance Festival. The festival coincides with the celebrations of the Suzanne Dellal Center’s silver jubilee. The program, which will span the coming months, includes performances by the best and brightest of local choreographers, as well as an impressive list of international guests. Marin’s company will be the first of the foreigners to appear on the stage, followed by Ballet Preljocaj and Company Miguel Angel Berna.
Often referred to as the Pina Bausch of France, Marin came to dance from a classical background. Trained at the Conservatoire Toulouse, Marin left France in 1970 to study at Maurice Bejart’s Brussels-based Mudra School. After three years of studies, she graduated into Bejart’s Ballet Du XX Siècle. It was there that she first tried her hand at choreography. Eight years after arriving in Belgium, Marin received a prize at the Bagnolet International Choreography Competition. That same year she founded Theater de l’Arche, which evolved into the Maguy Marin Company.
Marin is one of a rare few non- Americans to have received the American Dance Festival Award, which was bestowed upon her in 2003. She has created more than 40 evening-length works, among them Ram Dam, Cinderella, Groosland and UnWelt, which won a Bessie Award for choreography in 2008.
Among the first of Marin’s choreographies, May B is a perfect example of the blend of dance and theater Marin is known for. The piece is based on characters from avant-garde novelist Samuel Beckett’s writings. During her creative process, Marin met with Beckett, whose comments helped guide the choreographer in choosing a score and title for the work. The title May B is a take on Beckett’s well-known affinity for the word “perhaps.” Marin’s choice of Franz Schubert for the music was driven by Beckett’s admiration for the composer.
“This piece, based on the writings of Samuel Beckett,” wrote Marin, “whose work contradicts in its theatrical movement and atmosphere the physical and aesthetic performance of a dancer, has enabled us to lay the ground for a secret deciphering of our most intimate, hidden and ignored gestures. To succeed in unveiling the tiny or spectacular gestures of the many unnoticeable and inconspicuous lives in which waiting and ‘not quite still’ stillness create a void, a huge nothingness, a silent space filled with the hesitations. When Beckett’s characters yearn for stillness, they cannot help moving; be it a little or a lot, they move.”
In May B, 10 dancers struggle to discover themselves through a haze of absurdity. Clad in drooping, disheveled nightgowns, the masked, gray-faced dancers twitch, shake and gesture madly at the audience and at one another.
Chance meetings reveal sexuality, anger, joy and humor. The visual of May B is at once otherworldly and deeply familiar, presenting a warped, poignant and brilliant picture of humanity.
“In this essentially theatrical work, the point for us was less to develop words and speech than blown-up form of movement, thus seeking the meeting point between movement applied to theater on the one hand, and dance and choreographic language on the other,” Marin wrote.
May B will be presented at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv on May 2 at 10 p.m. and May 3 at 9 p.m. For tickets, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.