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danse de nuit, on cartoons and other violence in our lives, #HF17

The Anton de Komplein is less cosy than the roof of Parking 58 in Brussels, where I danse de nuit seen earlier. Above South-East, the moon is hidden behind a thick haze, the square feels large and empty so without the market. The performance by choreographer Boris Charmatz/Musée de la Danse, also to be seen today and tomorrow in the Bijlmer during the Holland Festival, seems simple. Dancers literally say what they do, what concerns them, they narrate at a stretch. Their movements add dynamism to those words. It's a bit like how small children play, making sounds, morphing: doing a little car with your hand, becoming the curve and then doing the collision with your whole body. But it also expresses a huge need. To share. To be heard.

a rat nibbling testicles

Violence plays a major role in the lyrics, but also in the gestures of the dancers. The murderous attack on the editor of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, January 2015, is discussed at length. But cruel gestures that appear in cartoons, such as a rat nibbling testicles, are also spun out and imitated. The dancers move around constantly and the whole thing has something joyful, energetic, as if there is no pain and suffering.

Because of the texts' emphasis on violence 'elsewhere', as a spectator you forget that the dancers are handling their own bodies quite wildly, at the feet of the spectators, who sometimes stand around them a bit uncomfortably. This vulnerability is nowhere played out by Charmatz. Never does a dancer become anxious, never does anyone seem tired. The drama, the feelings, the thoughts, they are only told.

Monument to the dead

The texts are in English, but the accents full of mispronunciations, and the fast pace at which the texts come out - to the beat of the movements - sometimes make it difficult to follow everything in detail. It also makes you as a spectator remain a bit of an outsider, despite the engagement of the dancers. On the other hand, it all comes out very directly. No acting, no pretensions. This makes some scenes extra crude, for instance when a woman is caught in her crotch and dragged around by her hair by fellow dancers. It is an alienating juxtaposition thus created, between the lovingly energetic way the dancers interact among themselves and with the audience, and the scenes they perform in the meantime.

Then suddenly an entire chain of dancers caught each other's crotch. Dancer Marlène Saldana quotes Patrick Pelloux, a member of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo, who was the first to enter the offices after the horrific attack. A wondrous silence breaks loose. Without emphasis or embellishment, as fallen dancers lie there mute. Thus, in a short time, a rape scene becomes a monument to victims, to heroes of free speech or free drawing. Jolie Ngemi, the dancer with the white leather cowboy jacket, jumps up and dances a resurrection dance. "Cuckoo," she says sweetly to a fellow dancer on the floor, "wake up".

Dull rage

The most idiotic part of the show consists of a long list of film and other stars put into banal and compromising scenes. "Meryl Streep fucking. Nathalie Portman fucking. Penelope Cruz giving a blowjob on the back of a Honda 4." It comes from a text by Tim Etchells called Starfucker. Some scenes you recognise, Hollywood is full of violence, full of sex, though of course we never get to see it quite so precisely. Reality is not instilled in us by Charmatz either, that would make for even more drama, voyeurism and fiction. Charmatz only gives the beginnings of a form, the beginnings of empathy. You could call it cartoonish, a few racy lines and the right slogan.

In the outlines, a dull rage emerges, of people who want to be heard, seeking attention through shock and awe. Funnily enough, this strategy applies as much to cartoonists as it does to the young attackers currently unsettling Europe's capitals. "Welcome to this space, welcome to my head". In the end, it seems danse de nuit calling attention to everyone's capacity for imagination and everyone's desire to be heard.

danse de nuit. Photo: Boris Brussey.
danse de nuit. Photo: Boris Brussey.


Charmatz deftly manages to stage a vessel of contradictions. He brings the audience into a bit of the situation outsiders are used to. Not quite understanding the language, still having to learn the manners. danse de nuit reminds us that reality is far too violent to turn into fiction. But also that violence comes from somewhere, that there is a basis of humanity, which when snuffed out, can lead to great violence. These are actually clichés, but Charmatz stages them poignantly, indirectly and full of hidden despair.

Good to know
Still to be seen during Holland Festival at Anton de Komplein 9 and 10 June at 22:30. Admission is free, but registration is appreciated, via the website of the Holland Festival. Metro 54 or the shuttle bus from the Muziekgebouw.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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