Sending an audience through a ritual of repetition requires a director confident in his vision and possessed of a keen eye for detail. Happily, Christian Rizzo is this kind of director. His 2007 dance piece, b.c., janvier 1545, fontainebleu, was presented last month at the Kitchen in New York City.
The work is ostensibly a solo for former Lyon Opera Ballet dancer Julie Guibert. She is motivated within the piece, however, by a non-human figure, played by a man in a bunny mask. Together they act out a predictable hour- long ritual of movement in a temple of flickering light and harsh sound. Even when (or perhaps because) it becomes predictable, fontainbleu offers the audience a meditation.
The dance language Rizzo gives Guibert is beguilingly simple: It consists of a long sequence executed repeatedly at a steady, solemn tempo. It’s a semaphore code full of oppositions – Guibert’s head turns against the rise of her arms, one making a curve, the other a right angle, she kneels and points to the ground. It looks too easy for a dancer of Guibert’s pedigree. This sequence forms the theatrical rhetoric of fontainebleu. Guibert repeats it, each time facing a different direction or aspect of the white-box performance space. This is the Cunningham/Zen-inspired performance philosophy of removing the center or front of the action.
Guibert is at work in her own world. She wears little makeup, black slacks, a black short-sleeved sweater, and three-inch stilettos. The choice of shoe is important: The heels would seem to neuter Guibert as a dancer. A dancer in a pointe shoe controls when and how she will come off pointe. Guibert in hard shank stilettos is denied that control; yet the stiletto etherealizes in a contemporary way. What is the pointe shoe if not a stiletto without the spike?
This is an examination of femininity, a look into a privileged, isolated world. In the program notes, Irene Filiberti writes that Rizzo, in making this piece, asked himself, “How do we look at a woman alone on stage, outside her community.” But Guibert is not alone. The performance world of fontainebleu is framed and manipulated by the man wearing jeans, sneakers, oversized prayer beads, and bunny mask. He is half-man/ half-rabbit, adding another detail to the subtle gender play in which Rizzo is engaged. Having a man onstage with Guibert would contort the sexual and emotional dynamics of the piece. Instead we see Guibert in an alien world, a light-box strewn with odd black shapes and hurtling through the time-space of Gerome Nox’s strange score.
While Guibert dances, the creature slowly gathers the lights and arranges them on the table. He stops occasionally to watch. The table is moved from upstage center to downstage left. The creature exits the space and takes control of the set. He lowers the black mobiles to the floor, then collects and removes their spent masses: Guibert is left dancing the same sequence in a bare space. The creature exits, watches her from a place between the audience and the performance space. Guibert walks to the table, now downstage left and holding all the candles in neat lines. She blows them all out, then walks to a cube upstage. She takes her seat facing the back wall, and a new light emanates from this position.
fontainebleu is produced by Rizzo’s l’association fragile, and is a co-production of the Montpelier Dance Festival. For this piece Rizzo was joined by his longtime collaborator Caty Olive, whose brilliant lighting design echoes the flickering onstage votive candles and simulates lightning.