Mesmerizing canon of movements: ‘Levée des conflits’ by Boris Charmatz

‘If one dancer fucks up, the whole thing falls apart and comes to a stop.’ Or what happens if you conceive a choreography as a sort of Frère Jacques-canon: one person starts and the next takes over. And: or what happens if you have 25 different movements in that canon and only 24 performers. You’re bound to end up with an ever-changing chain of a peculiar kind. And then of course there’s the singular mind of that gifted choreographer Boris Charmatz. His Levée des conflits (Suspension of conflicts) will be performed one more time, tonight, at Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels). It’s sold out. Which means there’s only one thing left to do: try and steal a ticket.

First you see the reflections of a disco ball, on stage. Lights turning and turning. Then the first dancer (the wonderful Eleanor Bauer) steps on stage, from where the audience is seated. She sits down and starts to make a circular movement with one hand on the floor. As if she’s cleaning the stage. Then her body takes on another pose and continues moving. Then another pose. At a certain moment, another dancer steps on stage, he starts ‘cleaning’ too. And continues with that same sequence of poses and movements you’ve seen so far.
Then the next dancer arrives, and the next, and all the while Eleanor Bauer is still continuing her sequence of different ‘poses’ (25 in total), until 24 dancers are filling up the stage, in an intriguing and ever-changing canon. And because you haven’t been paying attention to Bauer all of the time, suddenly you notice that she has started her sequence all over again. And so does the second, and the third and the fourth dancer…

Then you wonder: OK, how is this going to continue? How can they keep this repetition interesting enough for us to keep on watching. And that’s the wonderful thing of Levée des conflits: by moving that ‘body’ of 24 dancers around on stage. At first it seems as if they all can go wherever they want to go. Later on it seems as if they’re taking on one particular pose at one particular spot on that huge empty stage. Then they are slowing all of their movements down. Or they perform their movements walking behind each other in one big spiral, center stage. And then they move to that right hand corner of the stage, close together, having almost no space left to move at all. And wait a minute: now it seems as if there’s no canon left. Aren’t they all performing the same movement at the same moment? No, wait, that canon does start again.

I sat in awe, for almost two hours, watching these continually changing patterns. Completely mesmerized. This colourful crowd of dancers, while the music (rap, noise, bagpipes, Morton Feldman, Helmut Lachenmann) was coming and going, through the speakers, as in waves. Sometimes just one layer, then many layers on top of each other. Of course they make you think of us, human beings, all basically doing the same things at different moments. Sometimes you think that all of this looks less like a choreography but more like a big ever evolving art installation. An aspect Boris Charmatz admits he was looking for: a moving piece that gives the type of immobile look you get with a sculpture. It made me wonder too what other choreographers would have done with this idea. How would this have looked like, for instance, if Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker would have choreographed it?

I can go on an on about Levée des conflits. About this process of putting things together and taking them apart. About handing movements over. About trying to attain something neutral through movement. About the use of time and space. About his picture that stays the same but changes nevertheless. About the wise decision to bring all of this to and end at exactly the right moment. But let me just say one more thing: masterpiece.

 You’ll find a short You Tube clip here.

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