One man, six amplifiers and a swinging lamp: Rachid Ouramdane’s ‘Exposition universelle / World fair’

Funny how sometimes there can be an elephant in the room and nobody seems to notice it. I’ve read quite a few reviews about Exposition universelle (World fair) and not one single one of them was talking about the element in Rachid Ouramdane‘s new performance that seemed to be at the center of everything: that big, swinging lamp in the middle of the stage. A lamp that, to me, sort of symbolizes this performance: one man getting lost amidst his props. But anyway: Exposition universelle, a solo about ideology and the human body.

It certainly looks good when you walk into the theatre (and it looked fab in Avignon: in the courtyard of that cloister with two big trees): lots of instruments at your left hand side, that lamp, those six cool looking Fender amplifiers at the back of the set, and Rachid Ouramdane spinning around like a record, standing on that small plateau. Throughout Exposition universelle, he’s going to be alone on stage; his moves and wanderings accompanied by live music by Jean-Baptiste Julien. A sequence of scenes that begins with the ticking of a metronome.

How did political ideologies mark the human body? What about ideology and aesthetics? What are some of the scars history has left on the body? These are some of the things Ouramdane wanted to explore. Earlier on, for Les mort pudiques (2004), he had been working on the different ways death is represented on the internet. Since then he has become intrigued by the way a dancer can take on different identities. How one single body can create some sort of polyphony, how you can create by means of collage, one single portrait.

And thus Exposition universelle becomes a collage of lots of small scenes. You see Ouramdane walking and dancing around, often returning in his moves to that fascist way of greeting. He paints his face white, he puts on tap dance shoes and then he spits blood. He raises and lowers a small screen on which different pictures of a face (with a cross painted on it, with some sort of stocking over it, or painted black and screaming, or covered with those French colours blue, red and white). And you see him walking around in circles, under that lamp circling around as well.

To me it never became clear what Ouramdane really wanted to say with all of this. It was just a juxtaposition of a lot of different scenes, accompanied by that score Julien created on the spot. Ouramdane and his collaborators are clearly aiming for something more than just a dance performance, by combining lots of different elements (lights, music, video images…), but I seemed to be looking at a dancer losing his focus amidst all of this. Too bad.

Info here. For a short video clip with fragments from the performance click here. For a short video interview (in French), click here.

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