Don’t feed the animals: Xavier Le Roy’s suite of slowly changing landscapes (‘low pieces’)

Call me old school, but as an audience member I’m not fond of being caught up in experiments. That’s what rehearsals are for. Do your research upfront and don’t use me (and let me pay) to help you solve your problems during your performance. So when Xavier Le Roy and his dancers announced, from the stage at Gymnase du Lycée Mistral (Avignon), that they were going to start low pieces with a discussion with the audience during which everything was possible, I feared for the worst.

Call me old school, but as an audience member I’m not really fond of naked bodies on stage too. Most of the times, there’s a strange contradiction going on. They strip because they want to get rid of all the elements (clothes) that might distract you, but you (if you want it or not) start studying the human body in all its differences. And often it creates an even bigger distance between audience and performers.

That’s why, for once (and this is where A and B meet), starting a performance with a discussion with the audience proved to be a good idea. It sort of helped to take down the barriers between performers (they were already sitting on stage, looking at us, while we were taking our seats) and audience members. It helped create a sort of familiarity, which made that feeling of distance less big, when during the next scenes of low pieces, the dancers performed naked. Funny though: it made me experience the exact opposite of what Le Roy apparently intended. ‘We decided to perform naked’, Le Roy says, ‘because we wanted to get rid of all the codes that clothing implies, codes which only stress our humanity. If we are being perceived as objects on stage, that’s because first of all we were subjects the members of the audience were having a relatively informal conversation with.’  Impossible to see those dancers as objects.

But back to that conversation. Le Roy uses a clever trick to make the discussion experiment bearable: he sets the clock. Le Roy put everyone’s mind at ease by telling that the conversation would only take fifteen minutes and that after those fifteen minutes a technician would turn out all the lights and it would be over. Of course, lots of giggles followed, and silly questions too. As one could expect the conversation went nowhere at all. Was he indeed Xavier Le Roy, somebody asked? Why did he refuse to hand out the brochures with info about the performance upfront? Was this conversation going to influence the rest of the evening in some way?

And then: black out. When the lights were put on again five dancers were sitting on stage, their bodies moving as if the music they were listening to through their earphones was sending tiny electrical shocks through their muscles. A couple of these sort of scenes followed. Not in a single one of them did the dancers stand up. Hence: low pieces? During one of those scenes, their bodies were lying on stage and arms and legs were raised as to resemble plants under water. A beautiful image.

During another scene the dancers were walking around on all fours, resembling a group of proud and lazy lions. A beautifully constructed choreography that unfortunately took too long. And for another one, they just sat on stage, trying to resemble a rock formation in the blowing wind. And during another one (lights out), you only heard them cry as seagulls. From the noises they were making you could detect that they were moving around on stage, but you couldn’t see them moving.

The whole purpose of this? ‘I wanted to show images of bodies and of groups of people which try to be different from the traditional way a human being is represented. Images that evoke something else, and transform our way of looking at bodies and people. I wasn’t thinking of a choreography with a beginning and an end, but rather a suite of slowly changing landscapes.’

And then (ta-da!) Xavier Le Roy announced, in the pitch dark, that we were supposed to have another fifteen minute conversation. This time around, the lights were going to be left out. As expected, anonymity bred bravery, so the questions became nastier. Although I must admit that one of them turned out to be an interesting one. What was the music the dancers were listening to during that first scene? The noises a printer produces. But every one of the dancers had a different printer and thus a different soundtrack to move to.

Are you still with me? By now you’re surely aware of what low pieces is about. A choreographer investigating stuff such as the relationship between audience and performer, the difference between subject and object, and means to influence one’s way of looking at all of this. The good thing? Le Roy didn’t make me feel as if I was part of an experiment. In a subtle way he made me think about some issues. But on the other hand, low pieces never became a really captivating performance either.

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