Unruly force

Erin Brannigan: Le Siècle Des Fous, (The Century of Fools)

I could be dancing with Seydou Boro right now at the Spiegeltent but no, here I am wondering what I've missed out on…Boro, who appeared in Mathilde Monnier's production, Pour Antigone, created Le Siècle Des Fous with Salia Sanou. It's a one-off within the festival, an elegant work that Boro informs me has been around for a while, and it provides a nice reference point for the Monnier work, giving an independent voice to her African collaborators.

The simple set of a wide ladder centre upstage and drums set at opposite corners downstage creates anticipation as the instruments remain unused and silent in the unfolding work, their purpose suspended. Percussion is created instead by the bodies of the dancers; they shake their hands so that their fingers slap together, hit their faces against their shoulders, smack their mouths so that they pop, stamp, hit the ground with the length of their bodies. But the rhythm is bigger than this—there is a staccato play of action and stillness that reminds me of the startling beats of Zani Diabaté's drumming in Pour Antigone, the blinks of anticipation it caused. The waiting-for-something-to-happen is diffused here beyond any dramatic function that drives toward a climax, consisting instead of micro-dramas within the rhythm of the work. The whole piece is defined by an unruly force that seems to kick it all along, stop go go go stop go, manifesting in a frenzy of swinging limbs, then a quiet moment of mouth-popping. When the drums do come to life, they too seem governed by an alien force, finally jumping out of Sanou's hands altogether.

This all amounts to an improvised feel throughout the piece, although it is simultaneously apparent that this is not how the work is structured. It is this sense of something-happening-as-we-watch, bearing witness, that gets so lost in contemporary dance, the choreography 'taking the stage' so to speak. These bodies seem to be very much in the process of doing rather than thinking 2 steps ahead or operating from a distance through muscle-memory. And this isn't a type of dramatic expressionism either. It's as if the effort to articulate through movement can be seen, witnessed, and becomes intricately tied up with what is trying to be said. These faces don't speak for the body but with it.

Le Siècle is about a century of war and the violent oscillations from action to stillness, and the visible effort to speak through the body perfectly evokes what must be a constant struggle between despair and hope for Africans. What is also striking is the interaction between the 2 performers which also evokes war, running the gamut from tenderness to slapstick; one awkwardly carries the other, wipes his brow, knocks him on the head, checks out his foot. Companionship, worthlessness, tragedy and pathos are all evoked in these moments that really make up the bulk of the action. Dancing is isolated into formal segments that suddenly burst open into joy and an undeniable life force. A very special performance…

Le Siècle Des Fous, (The Century of Fools), Company Salia Nï Seydou, Space Theatre, March 7; Adelaide Festival 2000

RealTime issue #36 April-May 2000 pg. 21

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2000