United Kingdom Hoffmann, Fall/Fell/Fallen, Lonely Circus, Southbank Centre (Purcell Room), London, 10.1.2015 (J.O’D)
Sébastien Le Guen and Jérôme Hoffmann
Direction: Nicolas Heredia
Artistic collaboration: Marion Coutarel
Lighting design: Marie Robert
Stage management: Vivien Sabot
Construction: Sylvain Vassas, Olivier Gauducheau
Presented as part of the continuing London International Mime Festival, Fall/Fell/Fallen is a dialogue between balancing acts and sound. The first person to appear is the composer and performer of electro-acoustic music, Jérôme Hoffmann. The mixing desk to one side of the stage at which he takes up a position forms a prominent feature of the piece. Only when sound has started to come from it does the lean, muscular tightrope artist Sébastien Le Guen walk out from the wings.
Dressed in a black suit and white, open-necked shirt, he steps up to a narrow platform that runs across the stage. After standing sideways on for a few measured seconds, he falls forward with his body in a completely straight line. He leaves it so long before putting out his hands to avoid a smash that someone in the audience gives an involuntary gasp.
There is more than one moment at which Fall/Fell/Fallen provokes the response in its spectators of a quickened pulse, dry mouth and sweating palms. Le Guen’s ability (or not) to balance first of all objects, and then himself on small or narrow surfaces, is thrilling. And Jérôme Hoffmann’s ‘soundtrack’ increases the tension by acting like a voice that warns against, prohibits, or gives permission for the action. Although he makes too frequent use of knowing glances at the audience, Le Guen attains, at his best, the transcendence of Buster Keaton in films such as The General. He is Everyman, succeeding or failing at coming to terms with his physical environment of tightrope, planks and short, wooden blocks.
Yet it is as a series of moments that Fall/Fell/Fallen somehow remains. Its different sequences appear to be abandoned rather than brought to a close. It may have been, for Le Guen, an ‘off’ night. One mid-air turn from the tightrope seemed to go wrong. Shortly after it, a woman left (something it is impossible to do discreetly in the intimate space of the Purcell Room). At the end there was a considerable pause, of uncertainty, before the applause came.
Le Guen had, by then, removed his suit and his shirt. He had ‘discovered’, to the sound of The Blue Danube Waltz, the possibilities for sliding backwards and forwards across the platform offered by sprinkled water and his bare skin. He had also discovered the tendency of slippery surfaces to produce a fall. He had attached one end of a plank to a rope suspended from the ceiling, climbed it as far as he could, and ducked its circular swings after he pushed it.
The wooden blocks start out in a neatly tied bundle. They end strewn about the stage. Damp, semi-naked and buffeted by his falls, Le Guen is also a very different figure from the one he presented at the beginning of the piece. The status quo, as Deborah Jowitt writes of the early work of pioneer modern dancer Ruth St. Denis, is altered. But there has been no climax or sense of catharsis. Le Guen lies down on the suspended plank; the lights go out. The audience is left waiting for more.