Foot stamping is a common feature of many forms of dance. This is not surprising because it provides immediate rhythmical accompaniment to the dance, while being integral to the dance action. Inspired by what many consider as the most natural and first man-made rhythm-making in the world, illustrious choreographers have often drawn upon this primeval idea for their artistic creations. Footfalls, therefore, have often been extrapolated from their traditionally non-theatrical contexts and imported into ballets such as those by Maurice Béjart and Jiri Kylian, or into more radical theatre-dance works, such as Maguy Marin’s memorable May B (1981).
In Jean-Pierre Perreault’s Joe, rhythmical patterns created by stamping, tapping, and shuffling feet underscore the 68-minute-long action, thus compensating for the almost total lack of music. In this context, however, foot action is far more than mere accompaniment to the dance or one of its distinctive structural features. From the opening sequence, it is clear that foot drumming in Joe is intended to make a social and political statement. Created in 1984, Joe is a satirical, apocalyptic and comic view of everyday society. Images derived from a number of well-known sources, such as the robotic crowd in Lang’s Metropolis, the paintings of Magritte, and Beckett-like characters, mingle in a cleverly devised combination of post-modern theatre-dance pedestrian movements, modern dance ideas, acrobatics and clowning. The grim though enthralling caricature of a society in which people are doomed to move in unison and individuals are all too soon re-engulfed by the mob after their brief moments of self- expression derives much of its dramatic tension from the well-orchestrated foot drumming, in which one can ‘hear’ the angry voices as well as the timid murmurs of the 32 interpreters.
The idea of a 68-minute-long performance set mainly — though not exclusively — to foot stamping might be off-putting to some.