DANCE REVIEW: Lyon hosts Biannual Dance Festival

A few professional choreographers unveiled a bit more of their wild side than was necessary for their own good.

City of Lyon, France (photo credit: OLIVIER AUMAGE/WIKICOMMONS)
City of Lyon, France
The city of Lyon, France, hosted its 18th biannual dance festival for three weeks last month. It included a carnival-like dance parade alongside dozens of renowned dance activities in various media, including virtual reality.
Artistic director Dominique Hervieu strives to achieve a balance between the need to satisfy her audiences, introduce far-reaching concepts and new media, do homage to former dance makers, and present her distinctive preferences, which are tied to her former career as choreographer.
During the last week of the festival, I expected to see works related to all the categories mentioned above. As for satisfying huge audiences, Murad Merzuki of the Kafig Company – and to some extend his friend and former partner Kader Attou – led the hip-hop revolution from street dance based on virtuoso technique to contemporary stage art with theatrical attributes, starting about 20 years ago. His new creation, Vertikal, attracted the masses like bees to honey. By now he is recognized as mainstream family entertainment, which is based on polished production values and form-based technical achievements. The funky, biting hip-hop seemed to move to Tokyo, as portrayed by the sassy Japanese company Tokyo Gegegay, run by cross-dresser Mikey, a TV celebrity accompanied by four female performers with school-girl looks. It was a colorful pop-manga, provocative burlesque and mega-kitsch tasteless number, yet he certainly caught our attention.
He wasn’t alone. A few other professional choreographers unveiled a bit more of their wild side than was necessary for their own good. A couple of them will remain unnamed, but the exception was the choreographer of Einz Zwei Drei, Martin Zimmerman. He had been around for decades but managed to reinvent his art and never look back. The piece he concocted is a complex interaction between three surreal figures. It used physical theater gigs that were funny and clever yet carried undercurrents of gender issues, domineering, power abuse, and submission as tool of survival. Spiced by slight political innuendos and elusive reality, it was an exceptional performance by Tarek Halabi, Dmitri Jourde and Romeu Runa.
THE BEST was yet to come with two singular artists. Josef Nadj and Yoann Bourgeois. Nadj, a performer, choreographer, photographer, sculptor and more, has active since the mid-eighties as an original contributor to the dance theater genera and later to conceptual dance. His 20-minute performance for 18 spectators was accompanied by a photo exposition at the Fine Arts Museum. Wrapped up like a mummy in a black suit, he goes in and out of that temporary dark room, often introducing man-made objects, such as a mummified cat or a dried-up frog. He moves very little and mumbles a bit, yet he electrifies the space with almost unbearable tension. Three decades since he choreographed his canonic Peking Duck and expanded his interests, his strong artistic statements makes him a unique originator within his field.
A site-specific creation by Yoann Bourgeois for the world premiere of Histoires Naturelles at the Guimet Museum – which is soon to become a new dance center – was perhaps the highlight of the festival. The huge space, – which is in the process of being renovated – hosted several activities on its main floor. Among them was a rotating small square stage above ground, a steep slide from the inner balcony to the floor, a staircase leading nowhere, and a transparent cylindrical water tank. Bourgeois is well-versed in acrobatics, as well as being a juggler and graceful dancer. He and four other dancers defied gravity and took hair-raising risks performing on the edge trying to maintain balance against centrifugal forces, or barely find equilibrium on a high unstable deck, where each move by a dancer may topple the surface.  The audience moved around at will but almost froze when a dancer was lifted high by a crane and was lowered into the water tank, where she performed her part under water. For a pleasurable moment, sublime beauty and fear had fused.
Bourgeois had been exploring the limits of suspension and defying gravity as points of departure in his art. Technique and mechanics are the means, but the end result is defined by the performing individuals and their interactions. There is a trusting camaraderie when your personal safety depends on your partners. That’s when art touches us most.
Due to the heavy set components and the specific space required for the work, it will be a miracle if an Israeli producer would be able to bring the work here, but one can wish.