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As gentle and intelligent as the very young dancers are handled, reactions to Boris Charmatz's 'Enfant' #HF12 are often wild.

Youth these days mostly evokes the thought of danger. Society suffers from a distorted ideal image that leaves real children little room to play. Eventually, therefore, these revolt in Enfant. But until then, the very young performers still mainly have the role of adjunct or capstone, complement or extension of the nine adult dancers. The new large-scale production by French choreographer Boris Charmatz and his company Musée de la Danse from Rennes can be seen at the Holland Festival on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 June 2012. 

Ingeniously, Charmatz has the big and small play together in an unstoppable stream of detailed movements. None of them actually perform as soloists. Charmatz is not concerned with stars and speaking examples. Instead, he lets the ensemble as a whole shine by choreographically magnifying the everyday fabric of involuntary actions, gestures and relationships in an extremely subtle way.

But this does not hold true for the opening scene. In it, theatre is presented as an apparatus, creating grand drama with minimal means. With the proverbial stroke of a pen, frames are created, perspective built and the imagination stimulated. The measured emptiness and quiet semi-darkness of the beginning read like a true Genesis, with an elegant machine with hoisting crane arm as the great, gently clicking, helmsman. Three motionless bodies lie scattered on the floor. When the machine finally performs a duet with two of the bodies hanging from hoists, there is not only the gruesome image of the culling, but also that of the dancer as a puppet, brought to life in vain. So what do we want to see there?

During an interview after the Belgian premiere at the Arts festival in Brussels a fortnight ago, Charmatz says he does not want to play off the opposition between man and machine, but rather to understand the complexities of that relationship. What moves us and what immobilises us? Who actually moves what? If we fuss over regulations in nurseries while writing restrictive laws for family reunion and underage asylum seekers, which (state) devices keep us going and what in turn moves those devices?

In the first scene, Charmatz literally quotes an earlier work, which he created with the German choreographer and performer he greatly admired Raimund Hoghe and dancer Julia Cima made in 2005, Regí. Hoghe has a hunchback and deploys his dislocated body in his performances without hesitation. This has so far resulted in wonderful performances that deal indiscriminately with pain and exclusion, - with the effects of ideal images - in an extremely poetic way. In Regí served the self-designed hoisting crane machine as the choreographer's remplaçant, who, after all, was on stage and could thus rid himself of his regulatory role.

But Charmatz showed up for the opening of Enfant also inspired by the seven weeks of nightly construction and dismantling of the stage and bleachers in the Cour d'honneur of the Palais des Papes of the Avignon festival, for which he handled the opening. Avignon does not want to turn away 4,000 day-trippers every day, and so construction and dismantling take place after closing time, with crane, and last more than twice as long as the festival itself. According to Charmatz, that building is actually a kind of magical performance in itself. Working at the workshop to fabricate sculptures and frames captures his imagination and is not reserved for just the theatre or the Cour d'honneur.

Oversimplified or not, the images keep us going and largely determine our perspective. Charmatz raises questions, appeals to common perspectives and questions them by precisely not becoming moralistic. Instead of showing the obviousness of the movement, the obviousness of the images and, in this case, the obviousness of the lively child, she lets Enfant see how these securities are created and how they function.

Choreography here is no longer an aesthetic hand tool to honour a triumphant body and a guiding idea. With Charmatz, choreography becomes a sharp weapon with which he, as Jeroen Peeters in an excellent article about Regí writes,

"with its unruly movement language and dramaturgical strategies (...) therefore puts incessant dominant cultural ideals of the visible body under tension."

However, there is in Enfant nothing destroyed. However, self-evident things are "put under tension". Children in particular are surrounded by ideals and, as a result, it is difficult to play outside these days. Rules and regulations are supposed to prevent dangers like paedophilia and other abuses, but meanwhile men are prevented from working in childcare, and the child still seems to be thrown out with the bathwater.

Viewed this way, Enfant on all kinds of abuse, including those forms that are precisely trying to prevent abuse. According to Charmatz, in recent years children have increasingly become the object of a political struggle around safety and order, resulting in unnecessary legalisation. Further, this seems to have little to do with interest in the individual child, but more to do with a merely symbolic, for the political stage, intervention and enforcement. Charmatz mentions Sarkozy talking about chemically cleaning the suburbs of France (where a third of France's youth live). He refers to a 1993 documentary by Claire Simon, Recreations, about a playground and how there all the fun and cruelty of adult existence passes by in miniature form, even though the playground is perfectly shielded from the big, terrible world. And he refers to the curators of an exhibition 12 years ago in Bordeaux on the role of the child in the visual arts-, Présumés innocents, who are still embroiled in legal proceedings over allegations of pornography.

Just as the fear of crime grows steadily even as crime rates fall, so too do we see paedophilia, other abuse and accidents everywhere these days, and above all we try to rule out any risk in advance.

Charmatz subtly manages to hold up a mirror to his audience. By initially presenting the children as extensions of the adults, who play tricks on them that are open to many interpretations, he plays on today's obsession with insecurity and abuse. As gentle and intelligent as there is in Enfant handled with the very young dancers, so wild are often the reactions. During the opening of the Avignon Festival in 2011, there was outrage. There were fears that the children would have accidents or be used for shady machinations. There was little of this in Brussels, yet few adults took the performance as a look in their own mirror.

On Friday 8 and Saturday 9 June 2012, Enfant can be seen at Westergasfabriek Purification Hall West. The undersigned will provide the introduction at 19:45 at Bisocoop Het Ketelhuis and on Saturday evening there will be an after-party discussion with Boris Charmatz there.

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Fransien van der Putt

Fransien van der Putt is a dramaturge and critic. She works with Lana Coporda, Vera Sofia Mota, Roberto de Jonge, João Dinis Pinho & Julia Barrios de la Mora and Branka Zgonjanin, among others. She writes about dance and theatre for Cultural Press Agency, Theatererkrant and Dansmagazine. Between 1989 and 2001, she mixed text as sound at Radio 100. Between 2011 and 2015, she developed a minor for the BA Dance, Artez, Arnhem - on artistic processes and own research in dance. Within her work, she pays special attention to the significance of archives, notation, discourse and theatre history in relation to dance in the Netherlands. Together with Vera Sofia Mota, she researches the work of video, installation and peformance artist Nan Hoover on behalf of Author posts

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