After having imprisoned the Japanese dancer Kaori Ito in a wire forest in Plexus, in Azimut Aurélien Bory makes the Goupe Acrobatique de Tanger fly. A director who stages universal gravity and space odysseys, this celestial juggler’s dramatical object is the actor himself. A strairway to heaven for a physical and metaphysical theater.
In the early nineteenth century the Comte de Saint-Simon suggested replacing God with universal gravity. Aurélien Bory could have made the same claim about in his latest show, Azimut, bringing the heavens to earth through Moroccan acrobatics, a Sufi ritual practice. Except, in this case, all that governs the universe has replaced gravity. As he explains, “Theater is one of the few arts where you can’t escape gravity and the laws of general mechanics.” That doesn’t keep him from trying to find a way out of Newton’s theory of gravitation mechanics and defy, voluntarily and desperately, the earth’s pull.
In the uiverse of what he calls his “physical theater”, the bodies of dancers, jugglers and acrobats refuse to fall and rise instead. Their leap is the flight of Icarus. In Erection, Pierre Rigal tries to go from lying down to standing up. In Taoub and Azimut, the Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger walks on walls, climbs a sky grid and builds human pyramids as dozens of bodies pile on top of one another in an effort to make one single infinite body. At the end of Plexus, we see Kaori Ito tireless try to climb the wires above the stage, each time seeming to become more suspended – or lost – in weightlessness: in space, no one can hear you scream. Aware of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the director takes space-time distortions into account in order to overturn traditional gravity. In space nothing can stop an object, and still less a man or a woman. If we adopt Einstein’s analogy, space is like a canvas that wrinkles under bodies. These folds pierce the space-time curve, just like the acrobats do to a large piece of fabric in Taoub and the tarp taht covers the mechanical arm in Sans Objet.
Bory’s imagination draws on the laws of physics. He effortlessly combines brashness and quasi-mysticism, juggling and mathematics, to turn dance and acrobatics into new devices at the disposition of actors. His physical and borderline theater renews forms by creating voids and studying space. An apprentice physics researcher in Strasbourg before going to work for a firm specializing in architectural acoustics, he thought he had totally broken with his scientific past when he joined a circus school to be a juggler and then became an actor in a theater troupe, finally founding the Comagnie 111 in Toulouse. But when confronted by the stage – the surface rectangle and the space above – it all came back to him. His vertical and combinatory art was inspired by the vertiginous idea of black holes and the discovery of the Higgs boson, the energy shift finally identified as a “particle of space” in 2012. Not to mention shadow theater, which his elementary school teacher introduced him to. And of course Greek theater, the latter word meaning “the place where one sees”, in which theater is not a practice but a relationship.
In scrutinizing the movement of objects and the mechanics of space, the director sought, like kleist, to unveil the mechanics of grace. As is well known, the German playwright was fascinated by puppets, because, he said, they can escape the pull of gravity. ” They are unaffected by the inertia of matter, the property most disavantageous for dance”, he continued, “because the force holding them up is greater than the force keeping them down”. Yet Bory rejects being called a mere puppet master, a vile Mangiafuoco pulling little Pinocchio’s strings. For him, an actor is “someone who performs actions”. “Of course theater is ruled by the physicak laws of space and gravity”, he admints, “but no less by life and death, which also rule over each drama.”
The stage is a world
He eschews the idea of making these elements explicit, prefering to leave their apprehension to the senses rather than the mind so that audience members can interpret the show as they please. ” For me, not knowing exactly what you are seeing is one of the best ways to approach theater”, he argues. Nevertheless, “What we see in theater is ourselves. The stage is a world. Actors are situated in this space, and the interrogation is about people’s place in the world.” This access to characters’ invisible interiority is particularly striking in Bory’s two Portraits de Femmes. In Questcequetudeviens?, the dancer Stéphanie Fuster strives to learn flamenco while confined to a small modular unit – an image of passionate rupture and its infinite solitude. In Plexus, Kaori Ito – a dancer (the work doesn’t exist in Japanese) who has come from one continent to another – slowlu disappears into her open cubical prison made of black wires, a ghostly revenant seized by ancestor worship. His solo dances, which could be considered self-portraits, are touched with the same off-kilter and slightly droll melancholy. Pierre Rigal tries to stand up and walk in Erection, while Vincent Delerm plays with his own shadow in Les Amants parallèles. Bory, for love of songs, the “sound of the soul”, recently staged a production in which Delerm sings. It is “as if we practiced synchronized swimming in parralel pools”, Bory comments.
This minimalist theater in the form of an hommage to the spaque, circle, cube and geometry (including musical) brings to mind the spectacular cinematography of Gravity, the Academy Award-winning film by Alfonso Cuaron. As Mathieu Macheret wrote in Cahiers du Cinéma, “In this film the spectacle is linked to primitive notions such as distance and proximity, impossible cuts and the plenitude of time.” Because universal gravity is never wrong, like Curon this temporal plenitude interests Bory. “Space moulds us, it’s stronger than we are; it carrires us and then swallows us up in the temporal interstice is where humanity lives.” A humanity whose face is that of Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, and all Bory’s dancers, acrobats, singers and theater directors with their “Mir space station cosmonaut” airs. Suddenly we wonder about the hidden god of this harmony of spheres. Rather than the cold playing out of possible mathematics, this existential theater might have more in common with the wordless romances of the late Beckett, the crepuscular rites of Quad and its silent dance around the angles of a square. Or the ghostly dance in The Lost Ones, with ist large cylinder full of captives trying to climb (symbolic) long ladders and “take refuge in nature”. Human beings can become indistinguishable from the material they are made of. Bory’s physical theater is also a metaphysics.
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