United Kingdom Boris Charmatz/Musée de la danse, Enfant: Sadler’s Wells, London, 29.01.2014 (JO’D)
Maud Le Pladec,
Mani A. Mungai
Bagpipe: Erwan Keravec
Light: Yves Godin
Sound: Olivier Renouf
Machines: Artefact, Frédéric Vannieuwenhuyse, Alexandre Diaz
At the start of enfant (the work with which choreographer Boris Charmatz and the Musée de la danse make their Sadler’s Wells debut) a piece of machinery that looks something like a huge, black, Anglepoise lamp slowly hoists two dancers high into the air and swings them through it in silence. A second, also giant, piece of machinery is equipped with an almost vertical conveyor belt that a third dancer repeatedly tries to climb, and a violently rocking platform on which none of the dancers can maintain a standing position. When the rocking stops six more dancers appear, all with very young children in their arms. These children (nine, in total, and all dressed, like the adults, in black) spend the first half of the hour-long piece being passed from one pair of arms to another, or moved from place to place, or having their arms and legs manipulated (like dolls).
‘As with all great art,’ Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director, Alistair Spalding, writes in his introduction to the programme, ‘this performance asks as many questions as it answers….’ Is the lack of agency of the three dancers in the first section of the piece meant to resemble that of the children as they are carried? Do the children, when held in front them, represent the dancers’ own inner child? Should children who are so young be on a stage at all? Those were some of the questions I found myself asking. In the post-show talk, for which a large proportion of the audience stayed, Boris Charmatz did not try to give any specific answers. He said that choreographers often try to create their own ‘signature movement’, but that for him the body was not ‘clean’ (I think he meant not a ‘clean slate’, but was not able to say this in English.). ‘We are made of different layers,’ he said. Perhaps the children on the stage were meant to represent the first.
Improvisation was another aspect of his work that Charmatz referred to. He said it was the children themselves who, after being moved around so much, insisted in the workshops that they have a chance to do the same to the adults. So there is a point, half-way through the piece, at which they stand up, and begin to move. Most of the audience could not help laughing at the sight of these tiny figures running and jumping and waving their arms on the Sadler’s Wells stage at its most cavernous. Now it is the adults who lie immobile as their arms and legs are arranged in different ways. When a man playing the bagpipes appears, the children follow him in a line and the adults begin to move like children, too; they swing their arms and stamp their feet. ‘I like chaos,’ the choreographer said, afterwards.
Like everyone else (probably) who saw enfant, I still have my questions about it. Perhaps Charmatz aims to create a space in which questions can be asked. The brief, half-audible snatches of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billy Jean’ on the soundtrack were a reminder, at least, that not everything to do with childhood is happy.