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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 1 MARCH 2012Octopus, programmed recently at the Théatre de St-Quentin-en-Yvelines is everything that French choreographer, Philippe Decouflé could have and would have created for the dancers of the Crazy Horse in Paris, had he been given the liberty to do so. However, after his work with the dancers in the legendary Parisian night-club, he carried away the best of what he found there, and worked it as he pleased. Octopus is the result.

"The adventure began with a duo he conceived for Alice Roland, a girl with milk-white skin, a favourite interpreter of Decouflé’s works, with Sean Patrick Mombruno, a muscular, superbly-built dancer of black African origin", Valerie Kula, the woman in charge of Decouflé’s productions, told me. "The themes of black/white, beauty/sensuality, jealousy and desire, even life and death as seen in the tableaux with the skeletons, were a natural follow up for a full-length work he had in mind", she continued, "particularly after meeting the musicians, Labyala Nosfell and Pierre Le Bourgeois". She then added that the choreography and score by these two extraordinarily gifted composers/ interpreters, on stage live with the dancers, were created simultaneously at the Chaufferie, in Saint- Denis, a suburb of Paris. Thus the music formed an integral part of the whole, to the extent that during the performance, the dancers were seen spontaneously playing some instruments, while the musicians themselves joined in part of the dancing.

Philippe Decouflé/compagnie DCA
Theatre de St Quentin en yvelines
Photo: © Xavier Lambours

The sheer amount of dancing is what possibly differentiates this work from many of Decouflé’s previous shows, being less theatre and circus, than what has gone before. And while there is nothing startlingly new in Octopus, all of Decouflé’s trademarks are there, from the sublime lighting effects which open horizons, adding a poetic dimension to the work, to the inherent humour in many of the apparently unconnected tableaux.

Indeed, Octopus is composed of eight different tableaux, eight poems for eight dancers, hence the name. Calling the work Octopus pleased everyone", explained Kula, "from its animal connotations, to the fact that the choreographer has always preferred one word titles for his works, Shazam!, Sombrero, Codex, Tricodex, and so on, being short but effective."

It is certainly a more feminine work than one is accustomed too, again courtesy of the Crazy Horse, but here, nudity is natural and the bare-breasted women are lovely, lithe and full of personality. High-stepping black stiletto shoes and legs, legs and more legs dominate this entertaining show, where most of the dancers were long-time collaborators. Apart from Alice Roland, there was the unmistakable presence of Clémence Galliard, sitting atop a table reading a poem, aided and abetted by Alexandra Naudet and Ashley Chen, three sparkling, attractive young women, whose bodies formed a six-legged whole. Galliard, who at one moment seemed to possess three pairs of ears, was stately, sobre and elegant in her long, slinky gown; when turning around she was nude.

Philippe Decouflé/compagnie DCA
Theatre de St Quentin en yvelines
Photo: © Xavier Lambours

The four men were also all excellent dancers, two of whom had appeared with Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch, and never lost a gram of dignity as they strutted across the floor with the girls in their shiny, patent-leather shoes in what was suggested to be a parody of Swan Lake.

There was no mistake, however, in recognizing that the grand finale was Maurice Béjart’s Bolero revisited to the sounds of Nosfell’s pounding music, reminiscent of Ravel, but not Ravel. A dancer was undulating on a round table in centre stage, with the rest of the company a mosaic beneath. It was a kaleidoscope of movement, a huge mirror behind throwing back myriads of arms, of heads, in a swirl of black and white. The audience was enthralled; the Decouflé magic had returned.

"Each time the show is slightly different", Valerie Kula told me. "Each time they go on stage, it’s as though it’s the first time. There’s always some improvisation, both from the dancers and the two musicians. Decouflé amused himself creating the show, the dancers love it, and the audiences respond accordingly."

Labyala Nosfell, a French rock singer, and Pierre Le Bourgeois, cellist, two extraordinarily gifted young musicians, composed the complete score for Octopus, and played it live at each performance.

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.

Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives

Philippe Decouflé at the "Crazy Horse"

Philippe Decouflé and the Theatre of Shades

The Decouflé Phenomenon

An Interview with Philippe Decouflé

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