A Dancer’s Story
“IT IS WHEN MOVEMENT starts to be awkward that it becomes interesting.” This is how Cédric Andrieux explains his experience with Merce Cunningham whose company he was with for eight years. The statement could also describe Andrieux’s one-man and self-titled show at the Emmett Robinson Theatre where, for a little over an hour, the dancer tells his story in an unusually honest way with awkward silences and stillness which at the same time illuminate dance history and the story many performers have. You do not have to be a dance expert to fully appreciate the show because the work stands alone as a stark and authentic performance, raw in its telling and poignant in its aftermath.
Conceived and directed by Jerome Bel, the work is narrated by a deadpan Andrieux who also dances some excerpts of important dances while his story unfolds like his audition piece that got him his first break in the dance world—a section from Merce Cunningham’s Biped where he danced the choreographer’s role, and a little Trisha Brown’s among other short dances he uses to illustrate his points. When he is not dancing, he stands perfectly straight with his arms by his sides, feet in parallel position and weight equally distributed between two legs—a place modern dancers are trained to be—and it creates a neutral canvas for his story, unadorned by gestures or personality.
One of the most interesting moments is when he talks about the process of learning a dance from Merce, as he is affectionately known, with the then 80-year-old choreographer. Directions were painstakingly given—first the lower body and then the upper body movements. Andrieux spoke of the challenges and tedium in working with the technique and the humiliation he would often feel. He spoke about the dance and it’s non relationship to music which, when it was used, was “unbearable” and how in performance the “steps were so complicated, I could not think of anything else.”
This work really puts modern dance under a microscope and the beautiful and confident dancers we see on stage may be like Andrieux himself, struggling for perfection and trying to stay true to themselves but successful in their profession, making sacrifices along the way. We are shown an intimate and vulnerable slice of life that illuminates the backstage reality and helps us further appreciate the art form.
At the end, the dancer shows a short work by Jerome Bel. The only time music is used is here with The Police song “Every Breath You Take” playing while Andrieux enters and stands downstage left and looks at the audience for four minutes doing nothing but an occasional smile. We as audience are now on display and it is unnerving and revealing. “We are first people and then dancers,” says Andrieux, but I think it’s also safe to say, he finds more about himself through being a dancer.
This is a wonderful example of the boundary-pushing work that Spoleto brings us each year. And in this case, since Cunningham’s Company and school will be closing its doors in January, the story is even more relevant.
Photos by Herman Sorgeloos