My theater-going experiences last night were a study in extremes.
First I endured Dayna Hanson’s work-in-progress, and got really cranky thinking of all the past productions I’ve seen or read about that had done pretty much exactly what she was attempting to do (you can read my thoughts here). How lazy! I hissed. How unoriginal! As if there’s anything new under the sun these days…
Then I took some deep breaths, had a stiff drink (thank you, Winningstad Theatre bartenders!) and came back 45 minutes later for Jérôme Bel’s Cédric Andrieux. The solo, a companion piece to Bel’s 2004 work Véronique Doisneau (and one of a series of eponymous pieces), is one of the oldest, least experimental theatrical forms in the world: it’s a simple monologue, in which Andrieux gives a calm, direct show-and-tell about his life as a dancer. Totally unoriginal. And totally ordinary: Andrieux demonstrates classroom exercises, talks of his humiliations and joys, his grandmother who said, after coming to see him perform in one of Merce Cunningham’s works, “This music, it’s unbearable. It’s way too loud. You have to speak to Merce about this.”
And yet. Andrieux had me from hello, when he walked out in his hoody and brightly colored warm up pants, a headset microphone augmenting his every hesitant breath and thick swallow. It’s funny how the quietest works often take up the most room in our minds and hearts, isn’t it? Bel and Andrieux didn’t need to reinvent any wheels. They only had to make one that rolled along so smartly and beautifully that it never occurred to the audience to question why they made a wheel in the first place.
Of course, Bel is one of our great “experimental” artists. He reminds us, as Cunningham and John Cage did for so many decades, that what this entails, more often than not, is simply a reexamination of existing artistic forms. Bel sees our taken-for-granted traditions so clearly it appears they are being truly seen for the first time. And voila: they are made new.