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Harnessing Vertical Dance

by Elyse Beaudoin on February 9, 2012

Rehearsal photo of "Flat" by Andrea Dudla


On Saturday (Feb. 4), a diverse audience laid down on a stage in the Theater at RPI’s EMPAC. Each face in the crowd looked up at choreographer Yves Fauchon, who was perched on a large white cube suspended 40 feet in the air. Geometrical protrusions were sticking out of the front of the cube.

When the lights fell, Fauchon began bopping along the sides of the cube in his harness to an upbeat, French-inspired tune. It was as if the sideways and upside-down aerial dancer was strolling through the streets of Paris. Projections produced intense shadows as Fauchon floated and turned around the geometric shapes.

As the dancer settled himself on a cylinder, a projection of a small apartment emerged on the cube. This is when the meaning of this piece, Flat, started to become clear. The protagonist’s inner monologue was played through the speaker system as he slowly realized that he was living upside-down, both physically and emotionally.

Fauchon began a dance that looked like a daily ritual with working out, sleeping, going to the bathroom, sitting at the kitchen table and watching cockroaches scurry out from under the stove. The monologue continued with him expressing his loneliness. Emotional phases such as, “I feel as though I never leave my flat,” and, “My thoughts drop to the ground like snowflakes,” hung in the air like the dancer. The protagonist began to wonder what is real and what isn’t. Through the intense characterization of the monologue, his depression unfolded.

The final scene of this aerial performance showed Fauchon running through the snow. He ran along all sides of the cube and smoothly hopped from shape to shape. Despite all his running, the projection subsided into  flat once again and he, presumably, continues his life in this upside-down world.

Rodrigo Pardo, the director of Flat, is an Argentinean artist based in Brussels, and hopes to one day perform the piece four stories up on the side of an urban apartment building.

EMPAC’ chose Pardo and a second artist, Bárbara Foulkes, as part of the international residency program. Bárbara Foulkes is an Argentinean choreographer and contemporary dance artist, who is based in Mexico City. Since both artists incorporated aerial dance into their residency projects, EMPAC decided to give them the same four week work schedule. That way, Pardo’s Flat and Foulkes’ Flota could be combined into one show, Tethered: Vertical Performance.

Even though both of these pieces include dancing with harnesses, Flota has a very different feel than Flat. Foulkes’ performance is an intensive abstract dance that is open to a much broader range of interpretation.

For Flota, the audience entered EMPAC’s Goodman Studio and stood around a large L-shaped white screen, which they could move around freely. As the audience filed in, Foulkes stood sideways and completely still on one side of the screen with her image projected on all sides of the L.

The sound of wind and surf flowed through the speakers as Foulkes slowly began to rock back and forth. She performed one smooth flip, then began to tumble with her head and limbs smacking against the screen as if she was being sucked in by the undertow of the ocean.

Slithering noises mixed into the sound of ocean waves and Foulkes began holding her hair and winding her body around as if she were under water. Her movements ranged from smooth and flowing to sharp, rigid poses. At times it seemed as though she was a rag doll caught in the surf, then her whole body would stiffen up as if she were fighting for her life.

Eventually, she grabbed a rock that was hanging from the edge of the screen and swung upside-down like a pendulum, creating a downward motion. This created a sense of the dancer reaching the depths of the ocean. A bubbling sound came from the speakers and subsided into a slow pacing piano music. Her movements became more flowing and lucid.

Towards the end of the performance, Foulkes began flipping feverishly and hanging off the edge of the screen, as if she were fighting for her life. She played with shadow by jumping and contorting her body as a wobbling noise emanated from the speakers. Then she hung lifeless and plum-faced from being upside-down for almost a half hour. The room went dark and the credits rolled behind her swaying body. It was then that I notice that my palms were sweating and my heart was pumping through this entire stark and haunting performance.

Both Flat and Flota beautifully used the extremely physically demanding challenge of navigating vertical space.