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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 9 DECEMBER 2011 — Through the gloom of a darkened stage, one could just make out the outlines of an immense machine, a menacing crane like device with wires reaching out all around. It eventually hooked up two dancers, first dragging one across the floor and hoisting him high and dangerously in the air, before he was joined by a second who dangled even more perilously on high, held only by one foot. After an interminable length of time, when the two of them were moved up and down to the grating and horribly creaking noises of the contraption, seemingly out of a science-fiction movie, they were unceremoniously dumped beside a third black-clad figure on a giant sized moving metal carpet or escalator.

From the initial violence to which these small victims were submitted came a growing conviction that what one was witnessing was pedophilia.

They were then savagely shaken and thumped up and down to a point where it became almost unbearable to watch. Where was all this going? What was Charmatz trying to say?

But then, something began to happen. Children, fifteen or sixteen in all, were being dragged on to the forefront of the scene. More black-clad adults, nine in all counting the survivors of the rolling carpet, were pushing them along, and they slithered along the floor while others were being pulled by their feet; small, inert bodies, fast asleep. After being bumped along upside down, these helpless, unresisting little figures were piled up in heaps before being swung around in the air in all directions and jumped over by the nine adult dancers, many gesticulating suggestively. It was sinister and distasteful to see these small children being tossed around like so many limp dolls, but Boris Charmatz’ intention suddenly became clear.

Boris Charmatz: Enfant ('Child')
Photo: Boris Brussey

Entitled Enfant ('Child'), the theme was of manipulation, manipulation where adults were free to do what they want with children. From the initial violence to which these small victims were submitted came a growing conviction that what one was witnessing was pedophilia. The creaking, growling sounds, followed by a man playing the bagpipes such as the Pied Piper of Hamelin finished with a song, barely audible, by Michael Jackson. People in the audience, coughing and shuffling in their seats seemed ill-at-ease.

But Charmatz’ denunciation of child abuse subsequently degenerated into confused scenes of complete chaos. The children, aged 4 to 11, who were chosen partly from Charmatz’ own workshop in Rennes and from auditioning children living nearby, were all amateurs, including the choreographer’s own little boy. From being passionless and mechanical, the moment that roles were reversed, with the adults rolling on the floor, groaning and shouting, the children ran wild, giving a total demonstration of ‘non-dance’. There was simply no dance here, unless lifting, carrying, cradling, sleeping and dragging could be called choreography.

Boris Charmatz: Enfant ('Child')
Photo: Boris Brussey

The children ran, squealed, hopped, jumped, one little red-head carefully copying the movements of the resuscitated dancers, another pulling the elastic of her knickers down which had ridden up, while another tiny child simply dodged her way through the mass of bodies on stage to avoid being knocked over. Not many were enjoying themselves.

Did this macabre piece really "triumph" in Avignon this summer? If so, then the main courtyard in the Palais des Papes in summer must have provided a better setting for the children to express themselves than an enclosed Parisian theatre on a cold, autumnal evening. The question as to whether or not one has the right to touch a child was perhaps better dealt with in other surroundings. Of course children must be protected but the way in which Boris Charmatz chose to denunciate child abuse left his audience perplexed.

Headline image: Boris Charmatz: Enfant ('Child')
Photo: Boris Brussey

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the Paris Opera Ballet’s latest creation, La Source. 

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