Updated: 8/16/15; 18:43:46

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Life in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. B.M.A.T.C., and Etruscan typewriter erasers. Blogged by David Gorsline.

Saturday, 10 April 2004

Lyon Opera Ballet, Tricodex, choreography by Phillipe Decouflé, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington

Tricodex is a cabinet of curiosities, an evening of dance theater inspired by the Codex Serafinius, a fanciful encyclopedia of mythical beasts by illustrator Luigi Serafini. The dance piece is entertaining, if uneven, and marked by some choppy transitions.

It's is strongest in its early sections, where the dancers evoke imaginary denizens of the watery deep: hydras, jellyfish, barnacles, and colorful fish. Costumer Phillipe Guillotel attaches all sorts of things to his dancers—floppy tentacles, clown-shoe-sized flippers, stiff circle skirts; at one point a three-tentacled, four-legged creature wears point shoes on her feet and hands.

We then move into a more eclectic section, and the contraptions become more elaborate. A woman rolls about, lashed to a platform with a hemispherical base and with a lamp attached high above her head. There is a touching duet in which the woman is harnessed into a two-wheeled device like a racer's wheelchair. Three dancers work with what looks like vent hoses from a clothes dryer attached to their arms, and the hoses transform into Elizabethan neck ruffs. Yet this section is most successful when the trappings are taken away. A soloist in only a brightly-hued leotard works on the floor, her fingers becoming a skittering, scuttling critter.

The work's aesthetic might be described as Pilobolus with more people (28 dancers) and a bigger costume budget and without the editing. A passage of caveman clowning and derivative dancing followed by a body-builder pageant—the adjectives for this section begin with "regrettable" and get worse from there.

The music that scores the dancing covers a lot of ground, from Middle Eastern dance pop, to industrial noise, to offbeat invented-language songs that suggest Cirque de Soleil. The dancers perform on their own specially-laid floor, which they use to percussive effect.

There is a proscenium arch and drape unit that is regularly pulled downstage and spun around by two crew members in blacks, and after a while it just becomes a distraction.

In the ensemble dances, it's hard to tell whether anyone is having any fun. I saw one dancer who periodically cracked a smile.

The technological climax of the evening features dancers on bungees suspended from the flies. I consider ballerinas partnered by flying harness as a mixed blessing. I find myself in a weird anti-"Harrison Bergeron" world where natural ability and beauty is enhanced by ugly apparatus. At any rate, the women do well.

The evening closes with a sweet coda. A man and a woman, clothed so as to be nearly nude, simply trace their bodies and their extremities with their fingers, to the accompaniment of accordion and saxophone. Much more interesting than spinning from a pipe.

posted: 11:45:37 PM  

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