Americans, and as dance presenter White Bird showed last night, apparently the French, have a preoccupation with the apocalypse. Even if you're not the in the 41 percent of Americans who believe in an imminent rapture, media and pop culture constantly bombard us with the idea of a collapsing society (h/t David Wong). From The Walking Dead to Elysium to the frenzy over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, we seem to really like the idea that the world is ending.
Compagnie Maguy Marin seems to like the idea, too, as it made clear in its show at the Newmark last night. The performance of Salves, meaning salvos (meaning âa simultaneous discharge of artillery or other guns in a battleâ) is a series of quick, ominous tableaus depicting things falling apart. Expectedly, all of the dystopian messagesâabout religion, war, nonconformismâdonât say anything specific as a whole, but the way theyâre presented is haunting and thought-provoking.
IMAGE: Didier Grappe
Each tableau is separated by a few seconds of pitch black and crackling white noise from one of four large vintage tape recorders placed around the stage. Someone drops a miniature Statue of Liberty. A king is assassinated. A paintingâEugÃ¨ne Delacroixâs Liberty Leading the Peopleâfalls off a wall. All the while, people bustle about with a sense of urgency, like something bad is about to happen. The performance has a rhythm, with stage action occurring for about the same duration as the preceding blackness, starting with the ending click of the tape recorder. Five seconds of staticky blackness, five seconds of actionâfor an hour.
This proved too much for some people in the audience, especially as the audio recording started sounding more like a shrieking horror movie score than simple white noise. Itâs no secret that last time Maguy Marin played Portland in 2002, much of the audience walked out because of the annoying soundscape. There was no mass exodus for this show, but one guyâin fact, the man sitting next to me, who covered his ears much of the timeâwasted no time leaping out of his seat at final bows, and as applause began, he practically shrieked an enthusiastic âBOO!â
IMAGE: Jean-Pierre Maurin
True, for people expecting a nice White Bird dance show, this was probably a disappointment. Maguy Marin calls this âdance theater,â but even that is probably a stretch, as the only dance movements are a few lifts. But the coordination of the performersâ movements from scene to scene must take extraordinary precision, especially considering all the costume changes.
The âsurprise ending,â which White Bird co-founders Walter Jaffe and Paul King keep telling audiences not to spoil, isnât that much of a surprise, in that itâs an extended final tableau thatâs no more unexpected than the preceding shorter ones. However, it is the most vivid and action-packed, appropriate for a finale. Itâs a culmination, for sure, but a culmination of what? The pieces of Salves never really come together in a comprehensive way, but the end of the world probably wonât make sense, either.