Confronting the Modern: An Evening of Maguy Marin

The minimalist set. What appears to be a striped wall at the back and sides are actually ribbons; the dancers moved through them.

Yesterday I bought a ticket to see a performance of a modern dance piece by the famous French choreographer Maguy (pronounced “Maggie”) Marin.

On the way out of the apartment, I swept up a huge hand full of the ever-increasing number of small euro coins I’ve been given as change — 1 cent, 2 cent, 5 cent… I don’t mind using larger denomination coins (1€ and 2€) but the tiny ones? Too much trouble.

Here’s the performance:  dancers appeared then disappeared from behind the ribbony backdrop. They ran on stage, then ran away. They lined up to stand in front of one another, then scattered. Then they ran back. One would fall to the floor like he had been shot then another dancer would drag him off-stage.

Dancer dragged offstage copy
Photos that include dancers are publicity material provided by Palais Garnier. All other photos are mine.

One dancer crawled on top of another dancer, then a third dancer would knock her down.

Then they all would lie down on the stage and roll really fast across the floor. Then the lights dimmed and a dancer ran to the center of the stage, stuck his leg out, then lowered his head.

Then the lights came up and the dance repeated. I think it repeated. Maybe it was simply a random series of the same movements.

She represents audience copy
The dancer on the floor represents audience fatigue…

All the while the “music” is the sound of metal being pounded and dissonant violins played asynchronously. Then it gets progressively louder (I imagined my dad with me, and him leaning over and asking, “What’s all that racket?”) then it goes quiet. It was like being in the middle of a steel refinery with fifty workers hitting pipes with wrenches.

(I think I would have whispered back, “It’s a big racket.”) As much as I would love to say I liked it, I didn’t.

The performance lasted an hour and five minutes without intermission. I paid 95€ for my seat. At one point I calculated that it was costing me roughly 9€ per minute to watch. When you’re dividing ticket cost into performance length, that’s probably a bad sign.

Marin instructs dancers copy
Marin instructs the dancers. She would be disappointed to find out at least one audience member was doing mental arithmetic.

The piece is called Les applaudis­sements ne se mangent pas. This translates as “The applause does not eat.” Very modern title. Very French. I have no idea what it means. But I tried. Yessiree, I did try.

I’m thinking I might choreograph my own modern dance where the performers run into the center of the stage then jump up and down. They hit their heads with their hands. Then they pound their fists on a counter then hit their heads with their hands again.

I’ll title it: I Want My 95€ Back.

Usually I enjoy modern dance. It’s similar to the process of enjoying modern art — the viewer has to analyze patterns, movement, image/symbols, intentions and counter-intentions. What ideas are being explored? What is being said and/or unsaid? What can I take from this?

It was held at Palais Garnier, one of the world’s most sumptuous opera houses that’s also a venue for ballet, contemporary dance and concerts.

Look at the gorgeous baroque details
The Palais Garnier at night

Construction began in 1862. They ran into delays when they discovered an underground lake midway through the excavation. The structure wasn’t completed until 1875.

(Via email, before I arrived, my landlady warned me the building stairwell was being repainted. When I moved in, four painters were using sandpaper to scrape away paint by hand. Then they disappeared for three days. Then reappeared. I haven’t seen them in a week, despite the taping and drop cloths and materials everywhere. I’ve heard about the slowness of contractors in Europe. Is the story about “finding a lake” true? Maybe the French have always been slow to finish a job.)

This is the view opposite the Palais Garnier, taken at 8:15 PM before the show

When I exited the building, a street performance was going on. A dozen musicians played brass instruments — a tuba, four or five trumpets, a flugel horn, trombones plus a drummer. I know that doesn’t sound promising, but they were fantastic. I had heard them before in front of the Pompidou Centre.

The brass band performs

The acoustics were perfect with their instruments directed toward the building’s huge stone front. At least 100 people from the dance performance stood around listening. After an hour and five minutes of industrial banging, a tuba and a snare drum… so musical!

I pulled out every small coin I’d put in my pocket and dropped them clickety-clank into their tip container. Not only did I feel good about giving, but now somebody else could wear out a cashier by counting out 62 coins to buy a baguette.

2 thoughts on “Confronting the Modern: An Evening of Maguy Marin

  1. Ohhhh Bart,

    Thank you for the much needed laugh. I love your idea of your own modern dance, that bit had me belly laughin’, maybe in part because I could see you demonstrating it. HA!


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