Monday, January 24, 2005

(D) June 15, 2003 - Fly, Icarus, Fly

IT took them 15 years before they learnt to fly, and just 50 minutes to demonstrate that they could. “They” refers to dancer Benjamin Lamarche and choreographer Claude Brumachon. Having known each other for at least 16 years, they put together Icare, a small but meaningful performance, to reflect almost two decades of work.

On Monday night at the Actors Studio in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Icare celebrated the height of their success by presenting the 100th performance of the dance on the occasion of the KL French Art Festival to a privileged audience. Guest-of-honour was First Counsellor of the French Embassy Bel Emmanuel.

Trying to get a word with Lamarche after the performance was difficult as we were constantly interrupted by fans coming up to congratulate him.

According to Lamarche, the choreography took only a month to complete and then it was left to him to inject emotion into the piece, hence correctly defining the term “contemporary” to this dance.

The piece was originally created in 1996 for the 50th Festival of Avignon, France, an international festival of dance, music and theatre founded in 1947 by actor and director Jean Vilar. For Brumachon, Icare represents a personal search for a new gesture, and a new way of considering space not only on the stage but off it as well.

The theme of the performance was drawn from the Greek myth of Icarus, which is well-known in Western civilisation.

The myth identifies Daedalus as an inventor who created wings of feathers and wax to escape from his imprisonment by King Minos. While Daedalus succeeded in his flight, his son, Icarus, flew too close to the sun. The wax melted, causing the wings to fall apart, and Icarus plunged to his death in the Aegean Sea.

Although the performance did not follow the story exactly, the theme explores man and his ambitions and how a dose of failure can act as a reality check.

The 50-minute performance (with no intermission) by Lamarche was set on a stage that was bare save for a chair and parallel bars. The backdrop was only a black stage curtain.

The bareness, coupled with atmospheric lighting, did precisely what they were meant to: force all focus on to the dancer.

The dance began with movements accompanied by the sound of silence and the occasional chirping of birds in the background. It was a beginning I found a little awkward but because we, the audience, were forced to focus on the dancer, we watched every move intently as he tried to become a bird. Even breathing became a part of the choreography. Very soon, we became totally absorbed into the performance.

He repeated a sequence of movements several times, presumably attempts to fly. And when he succeeded, he performed “flying” stunts on the parallel bars, swinging to the left and right, nose-diving and then coming up again. When he was tired, he perched on imaginary tree branches to rest. On such occasions, there was a sense of elevation as he hardly touched the floor. Lamarche also demonstrated his versatility by showing off gymnastic skills.

There was a high element of control not only in his movements but also in terms of conserving his energy to last through the performance.

“Flying” was a greatly demanding feat, as it required a superb sense of balance, precision, and strength to keep in poise mid-flight. And Lamarche performed it with amazing ease.

Eventually he became bolder and more ambitious so he “flew” higher and higher. This was represented by a series of violent swings and then finally landing and standing upright on the bar. The sun, or rather the orange spotlight, above him shone intensely, depicting heat. And his wings of wax began to melt.

By now Lamarche had already worked up a sweat from his vigorous movements. As he fell head first into the sea, continuous droplets of sweat poured downwards as if it were wax melting furiously from the heat of the sun. This was truly the climax of the performance.

Dejected, he was forced to accept being “human” again: he put his coat back on and a pair of trousers that were conveniently hung at one end of a bar. His attire was symbolic of his rejection and acceptance of being human as he put it on and threw it away several times during the performance.

Still in denial, Lamarche entered the forest to embrace the comfort of nature. Here the play of light gave the illusion of a soothing natural environment by impressing on the stage floor a soft shadow of quivering leaves created by sunlight filtering through the foliage.

As dusk beckoned, he sadly realised that there are limitations to man’s ambitions.

Wearily, he slipped the coat onto a bamboo and waved it, imitating a bird. Against the brilliant play of light – it cast a shadow of a bird flying away in the sky, taking with it his dreams.

The play ended in pitch darkness, just as it began. And in the silence, you could hear him zip up his fly! Or was that my imagination?

It was a pity that so few people were there to enjoy and appreciate the performance. The crowd was small and comprised primarily French people who came by invitation. It felt very much like a private expatriate party. But they sure knew how to kick start a Monday!

No comments: