Those magic fingers are at it again: “Cold Blood” by Jaco Van Dormael and Michèle Anne De Mey

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“Three, two, one”, a voice said. “When you open your eyes, you are still alive.” The lights went on, and it seemed as if everyone around me was waking up. A few moments later everybody in the theatre (KVS, Brussels) got to their feet for a roaring standing ovation. If there’s one thing filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey are good at, it’s this: bringing a packed theatre into a state of collective reverie. Yes, Cold Blood, the successor to that immensely successful Kiss & Cry (180.000 spectators, 300 performances, 20 countries) has its flaws, but to make a theatre with grown-ups look at things with the same sense of wonder they had when they were kids? Quite unique.

What if we would take two feather dusters and fix them on two drills? And what if we would hold those dusters next to a miniature car, in an aquarium, switch on the drills and then put a camera on it. Couldn’t we make people believe that this is a car passing through a car wash? How I would love to listen in on a creative brainstorm with Van Dormael’s team. While you’re watching Cold Blood you wonder how they do it: keep coming up with so many wonderful ideas. For miniature sets that, when filmed, look like real life film sets on the big screen.

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Cold Blood returns to the formula that proved to be a winning one for Kiss & Cry (2011, review here), Van Dormael and De Mey’s first collaboration: you’re watching a film being made on stage with miniature sets – and with walking and dancing fingers instead of people – and simultaneously you can watch that film on the big screen hanging just above the stage.
There’s a slight difference though. For Kiss & Cry almost all the gear was already present on stage from the beginning. It looked like a carpenter’s workshop, or a miniature train world. This time all the sets are stored backstage, and for every new scene a new small set is brought to the stage. The team also seems to leave more to the imagination, as you can’t always see exactly what they are concocting. And so your gaze automatically turns more often to the filmscreen.

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Cold Blood is telling a grimmer tale than that overtly romantic Kiss & Cry. When the voice over has brought the audience into a state of hypnosis at the beginning (“Three-two-one”), the narrator starts to sum up all possible ways a man could die (“Death resembles life. No two deaths are alike.”). While doing so he focuses on seven particular cases. Don’t be afraid: you can bring children along. This tale never ends up being really scary. Van Dormael, De Mey and scriptwriter Thomas Gunzig will always have that special, touching, poetic way of looking at things.

Unfortunately though their script doesn’t succeed in holding the piece together in the same way that the script for Kiss & Cry did. It’s a simpler story, sketchier; it seems merely a way to link the various scenes. It’s something you note, as a spectator, but in the end it didn’t bother me. That is because Cold Blood once again impresses by its richness in details and references and by its wildly imaginative power, and touches by its underlying tender compassion.

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Thimbles become tap dance shoes and at one point the audience even becomes part of the performance in a scene that is a nice ode to Maurice Béjart’s classic Bolero. Another scene, with Michèle Anne De Mey herself dancing instead of just her fingers, is a heartfelt reverence to that great Pina Bausch, in Café Muller. Van Dormael manages to sneak in nods to David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. And then there’s that soundtrack of course, playing a big role as well, uniting all the scenes, by mixing classical (Arvo Pärt) with pop (David Bowie) and oldies (Doris Day).

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While being enchanted by Cold Blood, I was also struck by the artistic humbleness of this artistic endeavour. Here’s a very gifted filmmaker (Le Tout Nouveau Testament) at work, taking a step back and having fun. Joined by an experienced choreographer, not craving to choreograph her next masterpiece, but being content with just dancing with her fingers and hands – it’s lovely to see the smile on her face while she’s performing. It adds to that indisputable sense of sageness, woven into the fabric of this performance.

Video trailer here. Next performances: Charleroi, Bologna, Torino (October 2016), Vélizy (November), Namur (December), London, Lyon (February 2017), Brussels, Compiègne (March), Welrenraedt, Angers (April), Saarbrucken (June), Edinburg (July).

 

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