Dance: Compagnie Philippe Genty, Royal Festival Hall, London
Monday 22 January 2007
La Fin des Terres is the latest work from the celebrated illusionist Philippe Genty. The illusions are of all kinds, beautifully staged and lit. People and objects vanish or reappear. Performers seem to switch bodies, one person becoming another on stage. Alongside the marvels there are cutesy poses, smiles so fixed that dancers' cheeks must ache. The execution is superb, but I could do without the whimsy.
La Fin des Terres, conceived and directed by Genty and his long-term collaborator Mary Underwood, is a theme-and-variations work. The central idea is a meeting, with a couple brought together by a letter. We see letters posted, letters vanishing, a woman using paper as stepping-stones, paper becoming masks for the couple.
The lighting, by Genty and Emmanuel Laborde, suggests pale dawn skies or rosy sunsets. Billowing plastic bags become giant bubbles or seas. Sliding panels sneak actors on and off, suggest moving trains, put a frame around incidents.
Some scenes are much weaker than others. The woman is pushed about by a couple (her parents?) who have particularly bright grins. They keep shoving her into plastic chests, her face and limbs appearing in or around the edges of the drawers. The idea soon wears thin, while the performing style is tiresome: slick, clipped, airless.
Genty's may go for saccharine mannerisms, but his performers' technique is extraordinary. The central man and woman are played by four people. Sometimes they switch roles mid-scene, yet you only see two people on stage. The woman walks around the man, reappearing with a different face and body.
Careful choreography hides the trap doors, the concealed exits. Flurries of action draw your eye away from substitutions. Even knowing that didn't break the illusion. Transitions are so fluent, you see only what Genty wants you to see.
In the best scene, a woman dances with an insect lover, a puppet with a human face, frail legs and twitching beetle body. The whole creature is unsettling and brilliant. Plumed wings flap, there's an aggressive buzzing. Its body ends in a phallic curl, a tail thrusting forward between its legs.
Here, there's a dreamy absorption, the dancers seeming lost in their own world. Genty can be arch or knowing, but he does create distinctive images.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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