In 2004 Jérôme Bel, one of the most provocative performance makers of our time, created Véronique Doisneau, a solo for a Paris Opera Ballet artist who was about to retire. On the immense empty stage of Palais Garnier in Paris, Doisneau, in practice clothes, shared with the public reflections on her career, her favourite ballet moments and her thwarted dreams. The performance ended with a stroke of theatrical genius, when Doisneau highlighted the drabness of the corps de ballet’s lot by engaging, alone, in what the 32 swans do while framing the two principals in Swan Lake’s first duet.
The solo, available on video and on YouTube, provided the blueprint for similar works, such as the more recent Cédric Andrieux (2009). The personal history of the 37-year-old French male modern dancer, who moved to the States to become a member of the Cunningham company, is obviously different from that of the retiring ballet artist. Yet, Andrieux’s own biographical narrative also provides unique insights into the often remote world of dance, thus breaking any theatrical illusion in a truly postmodern/deconstructionist way.
While in Doisneau’s case the solo ended on a bitter note with her impending retirement, in Andrieux’s the narration concludes on a high note, looking at a potentially bright future. The work can be seen either as pure creative genius or as self-indulgent but I was totally hooked and loved every single moment, even though I was already familiar with the format and its delivery modes, namely the intentionally monochromatic tone of the voice, the held pauses, the way each dance section stood out, extrapolated from its original context. The dance interludes ranged from Andrieux’s graduating solo to an excerpt of his favourite work by Bel, via Cunningham and Trisha Brown.