Xavier Le Roy is a French choreographer and dancer who experiments with the constraints of the body the context and the image in his compositions. In one of his latest works, Low Pieces, he transfers some of these constraints to the audience, disrupting perception of the performers’ bodies by creating landscapes that emerge through interaction and nakedness.
At the beginning of the performance, Le Roy sits at the front of the stage, facing the audience while he explains that the performers would like to start the piece with an informal chat. There is no topic, there is no order, there is no premise: anyone can start the show. The lights are on and a feeling of expectancy and restlessness populates the space. There is no escape or protection. There is no hideout or excuse. We are the audience, and today we have been asked to take responsibility; a small one intensified by the openness of Le Roy’s proposal. The audience becomes aware of the other individuals sitting in the stalls. They take the time to look at each other, examining the characteristics of the community they form. They are not sitting looking at a piece but performing it themselves. After a few moments of tension, someone in the audience breaks the silence with a question and the dialogue begins. Low Pieces starts with a simple and improvised dialogue that ends with a sudden blackout. Silence again.
From that moment onward, the stage is inhabited by naked bodies performing a hypnotic range of movements. You see the flesh, but the more you get into the piece, the more you see the naked bodies becoming new corpuses. These corpuses are created through beautiful, minimal, repetitive, even architectural movements. The group of bodies becomes just one, bringing scenes that connect us to nature. I saw a group of felines and seaweeds. I heard screeching and shrieks. This is my version of a performance that triggered a contradictory sensation of strangeness and familiarity at the same time. In this regard, one of the most interesting aspects of the show is its narrative. All occurs within experiential bodily frames that produce these specific evocative images. All of the landscapes are self-contained; they don’t intend to concatenate actions which lead to a traditional narrative structure. On the contrary, these landscapes are just as formless as they are created to be sensed. ‘The notion of the formless can be traced back to Kant, Lyotard, Bataille and Baudrillard. Kant argued that we cannot know the formless because it exceeds our cognition and capacity for reason. What we can do, however, is feel it. The formless is a destabilizing force; it unsettles organization and totality" . Le Roy’s work has the capacity to captivate the audience by creating contemplative episodes that transform our perception of the naked body.
The work is about what our bodies can possibly be, about the multiple identities that flesh can have. The atmosphere has a powerful calmness that drags you into each of the scenes. While being positioned in front of these performative bodies, I ask myself questions about the relationship between the audience and the performers. First we talked with them, now we see them naked, but in these emerging bodily landscapes we see something else. As questions flow in my mind, I enjoy seeing these bodies offering us intense sensations as well as an experience of ambiguity. Once again we are immersed in the darkness. Xavier Le Roy proposes a continuation of the conversation. Now we don’t see each others’ bodies. We can only hear our voices. In the intimacy that darkness offers, more provocative and engaged questions emerge. The audience addresses questions about the nudity, about the skin, about beauty, about seeing and being seen, about shame but also about our role in there. At some point lights turn on. The performance is over.
The piece still interrogates after leaving the theatre. The performers have exposed themselves in front of us. They have exposed their bodies. They have given us the chance to talk and react to their exposure. Power is played throughout the piece. Low Pieces has been constructed to plunge us into a dialogue that adopts different forms and conditions: voice and silence, light and darkness, strangeness and familiarity, power and vulnerability, and all the nuances in-between. All the rules were clearly announced at the beginning of each section. Decisions were also in our hands; we did talk and we did look, but most of all we did transform our beliefs about the sceneries that the body can perform.
Esther Belvis Pons is a researcher-artist and writer based in London and Barcelona. She recently received her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom.