Dance: Danse miserable

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Theater Carre, Amsterdam


Highbury Fields, London

The name Philippe Decoufle may not ring any bells here, but in France, the film-maker-dancer-director is known to every couch potato. Switch on either of the state-owned TV channels and you see him in rubber- limbed dance mode pretty well once an hour. Each time the adverts come on, so does Decoufle - in tiny vignettes of choreography performed by him or the dancers who form his company, DCA. This stands for Danse Compagnie d'Art - a rather po-faced name for an outfit that draws its themes from circus and cartoon culture. But then, the French take these things seriously.

Decoufle makes films. Decoufle makes dance. Decoufle went to circus school, and he's got a thing about 1950s superhero comics. In , he scoops all these elements into a jumbly heap, and throws in a bit of cinema history for good measure. In the 1790s, a Belgian inventor called Etienne- Gaspard Robertson made a fortune in Paris with his Fantasmagorie - a theatrical spectacle using magic lanterns and mirrors to suggest transmuting ghouls and the spectres of guillotined revolutionaries. Despite the modern theatre technology and video possibilities at his disposal, Decoufle is rather less ambitious. Over the course of 80 minutes, delivers a string of mildly diverting variety turns and some visual gags using shadows and mirrored glass. But the spine does not shiver. The eyes do not deceive. In fact, at several points mine needed propping open.

Decoufle himself is a lovely mover, but he has some odd ideas about audience manipulation. He's alone on stage, half-dressed in a tailored jacket and Y-fronts; and his opening gambit leaves us uneasy. "The show you're going to see tonight isn't finished ..." he announces glumly, "for technical reasons ... for artistic reasons ... for personality reasons." Yikes, we think. Why did we bother coming? He proceeds to show us his elastic-band solo dance routine, which is pretty amazing, very slick. Then he announces, just as glum: "And now, a film."

Quite a lot of happens on film - the sort of blurry, monochrome, hand-held camera stuff that specialists get excited about for a reason I've never fathomed. We watch dancers shot through a series of picture frames, and we watch dancers squeezing their bodies inside picture frames. Later, we see live dancers performing in perfect synch with their filmic doubles behind them on screen, which is probably very clever technically, but didn't seem surprising in this setting. Girls dressed in conical- bra bikinis refer to Fifties comic strips, but of the men, none resemble Captain Marvel, originator of the magic word "shazam!".

There are a few memorable skits: a vivid impression of downhill ski- ing, complete with mouth-generated sound effects; a woman done up as a plastic lampshade; and a mock-seance in which a man commands his own body: "If you are here, give me a sign!" The best acrobatics come in the finale, where the entire company builds a teetering arched bridge of crouching human forms. But the fact that they do this on film, not live, makes it very much less impressive.

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