United Kingdom Cambon, Plexus: Compagnie 111/Aurélien Bory/Kaori Ito, Sadler’s Wells, London, 22.1.2015 (J.O’D)
Performer: Kaori Ito
Choreography: Kaori Ito
Conception, Scenography and Direction: Aurélien Bory
Original Music: Joan Cambon
Lighting Design: Arno Veyrat
Sound: Stéphane LeyCostumes: Sylvie Marcucci
In last year’s London International Mime Festival, Aurélien Bory presented a work at the Barbican in which the flamenco artist Stéphanie Fuster danced in a deepening pool of water until she slipped and fell. In the second of what the programme notes says is a ‘series of portraits of female dancers’ envisaged by Bory, the Japanese dancer Kaori Ito places herself on a suspended platform at Sadler’s Wells in which she is ‘entrapped’ by five thousand vertical cords.
Bory, who studied physics at the University of Strasbourg before joining a circus school in Toulouse, has said that his work is ‘mainly geared to the question of space’. If Plexus is a contest between the dancer and the space in which she finds herself, the space wins. The cube-like platform at the front of the stage is the setting for several powerful, often beautiful images. (People talked about them all the way back to the Tube). In terms of its drama, the work ties itself into a knot.
Space, at first, is almost denied. A large piece of black cloth, like the obscuring grey canvas at the start of Cullberg Ballet’s Plateau Effect at Sadler’s Wells last November, hangs from the proscenium arch. It presses up against Ito, who stands centre stage in ivory-coloured lingerie. Just as the Cullberg Ballet dancers disappeared into their grey canvas, so Ito is engulfed by the folds of the cloth. She next appears stepping up on to the platform, dragging the cloth behind her before becoming lost to sight in the forest of cords.
The three-dimensional becomes two-dimensional, then, as light shines across the surface of the cords to create the effect of a shimmering, black and white screen. Patches of black appear as Ito pushes the cords apart. The dancer herself is still invisible. When the light changes she is dressed in black. Like a stringed puppet she hangs among the cords at forwards, sideways, and backwards angles. One part of her body, though, always remains in contact with the floor. It is around here, too, that Ito shakes the cords, making the platform swing, as if in reference to the woman that the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper sees trapped behind the pattern (‘I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled,…’).
The choreography for Plexus is by Ito. This section refers to her past as a ‘muse’ for choreographers such as Alain Platel, Angelin Preljocaj and James Thierrée. It is followed by one in which, naked from the waist up, she traces a slow, shadowy, zigzag path between the cords. In this section she does, indeed, resemble the ‘warrior dancer’ referred to in the London International Mime Festival publicity.
But if this is the work’s most haunting section, it is also the point at which it drops a dramatic thread. For when it ends, Ito can be seen to step off the platform at the back for a necessary costume change in the wings. If she can come and go, she is not ‘entrapped’.
After that, nothing about Plexus, from a dramatic point of view, has quite the same force. There are several visually striking moments: Ito’s reappearance, like a figure from a Cocteau film, wearing a black catsuit and holding the twisted length of black material above her head; Ito suddenly seen high up among the cords; Ito moving back and forth, on wires, like a demonic Tinkerbell. By the end, however, for all the amplified stamping of the dancer’s feet, for all the gold-on-black of her final costume, Plexus seems to have lost its narrative way in its own scenic space.