Sunday, November 11, 2012

Compagnie 111's Sans Objet: This Robot Has Heart

Olivier Alenda and Olivier Boyer perform Compagnie’s 111’s Sans Objet at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Aglaé Bory.

 If someone invited you to a show featuring a robot, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Johnny 5 of Short Circuit fame, and two acrobatic actors, you may raise a skeptical eyebrow and politely decline.

That would be a mistake.

Compagnie 111, under the direction of visionary Auélian Bory, presents Sans Objet in conjunction with BAM's Next Wave Festival.

It's sublimely entertaining.

The piece opens with an unidentifiable mass concealed under a glistening tarp. Shimmering beneath the dim lights, accompanied by the sound of clicks and chords, this object begins to come to life, unfolding, twisting, and crumpling. Your imagination cannot resist the opportunity to assign an identity to this contorted contraption. Is it Darth Vader? E.T.? A hippopotamus? Perhaps a tank? Each time your mind lands on a fixed specification, the mass warps into a new configuration. It‘s the performative version of Rorschach inkblots.

One man, and then another, sporting black suits with black shoes and white socks, wander onto the stage. Perplexed, they gravely regard the mass, before tugging at the plastic tarp. A humorous montage ensues, as they struggle to remove the sheet.Eventually, they unveil a large, muscular robot, housed on a platform constructed of moveable slabs. One man engages in an introductory Cha Cha of sorts with the automaton, tentatively approaching before retreating, while the other fussily attempts to bundle up the tarp.

Acting less like an automaton out of a hysterical 20th century sci-fi story, the robot—skillfully operated by Tristan Baudoin and the true star of Sans Objet—seems more like an occasionally temperamental child exploring his new environment.

Bory demonstrates a good feel for pacing. Sans Objet is episodic, weaving short scenes of deep beauty with clownish interludes and zany montages. In one extraordinary tableau, the men, performed with unconcerned élan by Olivier Alenda and Olivier Boyer, explore the robot’s capacity by clambering and pussyfooting over its ever-changing terrain.  Hanging on the robot’s arm, the men effortlessly glide and softly hover to the electronic soundscape, a mélange of twangy chords and deep bass, constructed by Stéphane Ley.  The leisurely pacing of the robot’s movements creates the feeling of a visual chimera; you could watch this all day, but Bory has other plans, quickly switching to a montage of Boyer and Alenda, stiff-limbed and purposeful, marching at the robot, as strident electronica thumps.

In one sketch, Bory belies his circus roots. Eliciting guffaws from the audience in an old vaudeville staple, Boyer and Alenda portray two people, acting as one, with the bottom of one and the top the other covered by a slab, stretching and lengthening in impossibly comical ways.  

San Objet never bores. Alternatively clever, witty, and magical, it grabs your attention immediately, and continues to hold it rapt throughout its seventy-minute duration. The ending rediscovers the original tarp, now draped from ceiling to floor at the front of the stage. The robot and the two men, shielded from the audience's gaze, riddle it with holes. With light streaming through the apertures, it resembles a gigantic colander. A rectangle, knifed into the sheet, falls away, and Boyer and Alenda stroll through toward the audience. The robot shimmers in the doorway, a final adieu.

It crosses your mind that you never realized you could feel so fond of a massive hunk of metal and wire.  While the tendency to anthropomorphize the robot is undeniable, this machine—conceived, constructed, and controlled by mortals—may not be human, but it is certainly humane. 

This review refers to the performance seen on November 10th at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Personal Note from Erin

Dear Friends,

I have been fortunate to be invited to review two fabulous shows in October. I do encourage you to take a moment to visit these websites to read my reviews.

Please visit Fit Engine to read my review of NYC10 on October 24th at Dixon Place:

Also, see my review of Composer’s Voice October 28th concert at:

Regular reviews will resume next week.

I also hope you will consider attending my show The Public Decides: Same Dance, Different Music on Sunday, November 18th at 1PM. The show is FREE and will be held at Jan Hus Church located at 351 East 74th Street, New York, NY.  Your vote decides the trajectory of my piece. Please see the link below to learn more.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Your presence means a lot to me.

Happy Dancing,