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The Decouflé Phenomenon


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 10 March 2005—With three works in three theatres, Tricodex at the Théatre du Chatelet, interpreted by the Lyon Opéra Ballet, Iiris, (choreography version number two of Iris) at the Théatre du Chaillot followed by three performances at the Théatre de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines at the same time as Solo*, the formidable one-man show of Decouflé by Decouflé, Parisians were fortunate indeed!

Tricodex is the fourth version of Philippe Decouflé's 1986 work, Codex for seven dancers, a series of tableaux inspired by Luigi Serafini's illustrated encyclopaedia depicting imaginary plants and insects as well as numerous strange fantasy creatures. It was then filmed the following year. Decodex, conceived almost ten years later for 12 dancers, was a logical continuation of the idea created, he told me, with his children in mind.

A re-worked version, with costumes always by the extraordinarily imaginative Philippe Guillotel, opening with his infamous little zebra-striped beings wearing clumsy rubber flippers opened what should have been an enchanting evening at the Chatelet. The Lyon Opéra Ballet is normally a fine troupe, but despite the fact they'd been working with Decouflé, the majority of dancers, thirty in all, didn't convince; they lacked temperament and personality. From the beginning of the performance, the charm so normally associated with Philippe Decouflé was absent. It isn't enough to have a pretty physique and a good technique. No one is irreplaceable, but people like Christophe Salengro, who never trained as a dancer, are.

Philippe Decouflé
Philippe Decouflé: Tricodex

The dancers were not helped by the lighting, presumably conceived for the auditorium of the Opéra of Lyon where the ballet was created last March. The Paris theatre is larger, and the public, seated further away from the artists, could not fully appreciate the sheer creativeness and originality in the costumes on the dim stage. They could not see the dancers' faces, and the solo of the woman with the long waving antennae on her arms which undulated above her head, for instance, had little impact. The magic was just not there.

Philippe Decouflé
Philippe Decouflé: Tricodex
Photo: ICARE

And for the Mr. Universe scene, most of the men in the company, lacking the sense of self-derision necessary, looked plain silly. Moreover, the rhythm didn't seem right.

At times, the company seemed to perk up and the work almost took off. Maybe it just needs more time; when the troupe learns to be a little crazy and throw its inhibitions to the wind!

Philippe Decouflé
Philippe Decouflé: Tricodex
Photo: ICARE

In striking contrast to that interpretation, Iiris, danced by Decouflé's own group of superb, hand-picked artists was stunning. Decouflé, past master of superlative stage images, video imagery which defies all imagination and description, and optical illusions of such incredible beauty it fairly takes one's breath away, surpassed himself with Solo* and Iiris, the latter being shown, he said, for the last time before his group was (temporarily?) disbanded, each to follow their individual projects.

The splendid Theatre of Saint-Quentin -en -Yvelines was the perfect place for the troupe to present their recent work, created in Japan in 2003, and triumphantly received at the Théatre de Chaillot by packed houses over a six week period at the end of that year. In Iiris, nothing is what it seems to be. The work opens with the silhouette of a dancer/dancers on stage, and seen on a screen behind in black and white, from three different angles. The solitary figure on stage is clad in loose flowing trousers, but his reflection is dressed in practice tights and t-shirt, while humour is ever-present in the shadow of a demon who grows larger and larger, telling us all he is the baddie before he squishes back into nothing.

But before becoming a choreographer, Philippe Decouflé was a dancer. And his auto-biographical choreography, Solo, where he is the sole interpreter is a jewel.

* Solo, which will be shown at the Joyce Theatre, New York, early in 2006, will be reviewed at a later date.

Related archives: Interview with Philippe Decouflé

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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