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Etienne Guilloteau & Claire Croizé / Action Scénique

Claire Croizé and Etienne Guilloteau met while they were studying at P.A.R.T.S. Since then they have formed a couple in daily life, but as performing artists they also support each other as dramaturge or performer in the development of their oeuvre. This is why they founded the Action Scénique organisation with Nada Gambier. The term originates from the world of opera. It refers to a movement away from the traditional form of opera in which the story and illusion provide the tone. The azione scenica focuses on the actual here and now of the stage. It seems like a synopsis of everything Guilloteau and Croizé stand for. Their work shies away from overly obvious stories or an exaggerated aesthetic and searches for a balance between theatricality and physicality, reality and fiction.

This vision was already evident in the solos that they created as their final projects at P.A.R.T.S. Guilloteau presented Love Me Two Times (2002). In this short piece we see him perform the same dance several times in succession. Anyhow, this is what we suspect, because the first time he has a sweater pulled up over his head, so that you don't see his head or arms while he first moves around and jumps at a flighty, then slower, or much faster pace. His aim is to examine how the memory works, how memories colour and distort our perception.

It is remarkable that, despite the fundamental abstract position, the oeuvre of Guilloteau and Croizé is highly emotional and evokes aesthetic reactions.

Claire Croizé completed her studies two years earlier, in 2000, with the solo Blowing up. The work consists of just two phrases of movement. In the first, the dancer spins around with increasing speed until she loses balance and unsteadily comes to a standstill. The second phrase of movement mobilises life and limb as if interpreting something. Each time Croizé performs this phrase, she pulls heavy overcoats on over her dress, like a type of costume. These two sequences are repeated many times with emphatic pauses after each repetition. Each repetition visibly demands more effort. Croizé comes a little closer to the audience each time, until she is right in front of them. At this point it is impossible to escape her open, penetrating but also questioning gaze. It is as though she wants to say or ask something, but the spectator has to guess what. Nevertheless the fact that her action is meaningful has already been established: the dancer guarantees it with her life.

Since then, Croizé and Guilloteau continue to explore how dance, combined with light, costumes and music, gives rise to meaning. Or further, what the composition of dance  looks like and how it relates to the composition of the other stage elements. The title Tres Scripturae, a work by Guilloteau from 2009, reads like a programme statement. The work is based on three simple phrases of movement, one for each dancer. After they have been displayed, they are repeated and combined in many adaptations over the course of an hour. However, it is through the contrast with the other two compositions or ‘scripts’(cf. scripturae’), especially the piano music by Alain Franco and the decor and lighting variations by Hans Meijer, that the work acquires its overall, enchanting lustre. It is remarkable that, despite the fundamental abstract position, the oeuvre of Guilloteau and Croizé is highly emotional and evokes aesthetic reactions. Even though this is not the makers' primary objective. They rely more on a solid foundation of literary, visual and musical references as the starting point for their work. Both Claire Croizé and Etienne Guilloteau have now developed a distinguished oeuvre. Two pieces from 2007 succinctly reveal its richness: Affected (Croizé) and La Magnificenza (Guilloteau).

Affected (2006) by Claire Croizé consists of three danced self-portraits of women. They present a highly self-assured portrait of themselves. The first portrait, by Mariana Garzón García, depicts a woman who is in full control of her presence, even when the movements suggest powerful emotions. The music, Gustav Mahlers ‘Urlicht’, shares this contrived precision, this effect. This self-assuredness also emerges in the subsequent solos by Claire Godsmark and Varinia Canto Vila. The contrast between Garzón García and Godsmark couldn't be greater. While Garzón García poses as a mature woman, Godsmark is all about playfulness and undisguised derision. She doesn't think for a moment about presenting herself respectably. Here Croizé opted for Mahler's ‘Das Rheinlegendchen’, scintillating, overly cheerful music. Here Godsmark's capricious appearance is obviously a sign of her youthfulness. The portrait presented by Canto Vila is extremely tormented. One moment she laughs exuberantly, the next she bursts into tears. Here Mahler's ‘Adagietto’ reverberates in an adaptation for electronic instruments. Thus the form of Affected becomes a study of the way in which women think about themselves and present themselves to the outside world at different stages of their life. This is an image that is not created by a story, but by an exact, far-driven choice of consciously adopted expressions. Extremely uncool but this is precisely why it is so captivating.

In La Magnificenza Guilloteau reworks material that he had previously developed for Skènè (2004), a duet with Croizé. In that earlier work the movement derived its force from the fact that it was simultaneously performed by two dancers. Here however, Guilloteau performs it alone, even though there are two other people on stage, the dancer Vincent Dunoyer and the technician Hans Meijer. They are rarely on the floor at the same time. Initially the stage is even empty. This emptiness is 'filled' with a game of quickly changing lighting modes. The music is also momentarily 'empty', one moment by Eric Satie, the next by John Cage. Guilloteau only appears for a solo after some time. This means he spends most of the performance lying on the ground, with a thoughtful expression on his face. It is as though we are watching a rehearsal and the performer rejects any accountability for the public. This long, double intro is followed by an extremely bizarre incident: Hans Meijer and Vincent Dunoyer appear and begin to dismantle the set. Meijer removes two spotlights while Dunoyer pushes aside some curtains. While they repeat this procedure, from time to time Guilloteau unexpectedly enters the stage to jump up and down. After a while we see Dunoyer fiddling with three microphone stands. He hangs a black cloth over them and crawls underneath it. This fragment was given the working title ‘Der Tod’ and concludes the performance. With this idiosyncratic form La Magnificenza poses the question of how you can interpret a moment of inspiration, an image or an idea for the stage without it losing its original appeal. The image of death at the end suggests that such a thing is impossible. Guilloteau explicitly demonstrates this impossibility by breaking down the set when the piece is just beginning. In these dead moments of deconstruction he muses about what remains and survives of the piece. “Quelque chose se construit dans la deconstruction” (something is constructed from the deconstruction), he notes. Due to his uncompromising construction, which connects the music, dance and light in a suggestive manner, this is a minor but unfortunately relatively unnoticed masterpiece.

Author:
Pieter T’Jonck

Pieter T’Jonck is a civil engineer-architect and publicist for De Morgen newspaper and diverse publications at home and abroad. He writes about dance, theatre, visual art and architecture. T’Jonck is also an adviser to DasArts in Amsterdam.