Boris Charmatz’s ‘Flip book’: a loving attack on Merce Cunningham’s legacy

As if some art vandal entered the Van Gogh Museum, but instead of demolishing the paintings, he decided to add some wild graffiti on the walls. That’s how Boris Charmatz‘s Flip book felt to me: a respectful attack on the legacy of Merce Cunningham, the great choreographer who died last year.

How do you transmit dance? That’s the question Kaaitheater’s Re:Move festival is focusing on. According to Boris Charmatz it is quite simple to answer that question: you just study some pictures of a choreographer’s work, you learn those poses and that’s it.

Of course, there is much more to it than that, but this is basically what  Charmatz has done for Flip book. He took David Vaughan’s book Merce Cunningham: fifty years as the starting point for this performance. ‘If you flip through it quickly, it’s almost a performance in itself.’ His dancers had to study all those pictures and then find ways to combine them into flowing movements. A strange way of going about, but one that’s entirely respectful to the way Cunningham worked. He also started with fixed positions in advance, and had his choreographies arise from the way dancers linked those positions.

So Flip book is a sort of re-enactment of Cunningham-positions linked in a new way. It’s a fake Cunningham-performance that’s staying true to Cunningham’s legacy at the same time. Charmatz’s group of dancers do so on a loud and discordant soundtrack. It’s mixed by somebody sitting in front of the stage, next to somebody flipping through the pages of a Merce Cunningham-book. Due to that (at several moments disturbingly loud) soundtrack, this performance gets an aggressive side to it that made me feel rather uneasy.

But Charmatz’s take on Cunningham’s legacy is an entirely consistent one. And I guess the only one somebody from his generation could have. Loving, respectful but at the same time questioning it, mocking it and taking it all down. Boisterous and analytical. Do bring your earplugs, though.

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