What do you do if in your early twenties you are already an adored dancer on the stage of the Paris Opera Ballet but you feel less than fulfilled? You have boundless energy, absurd technical mastery, you embody the secrets of defying gravity at will, you are a sensitive, attentive and never wavering partner to even the most demanding ballerinas. Your creativity doesn’t allow you a moment’s rest as you constantly dream up ways of improving upon the choreography that you are given by others. And you are also naturally prone to questioning authority. Add to this an explosive charisma and an acute sense for the cultural zeitgeist and you have FranĂ§ois Alu, Premier Danseur, L’OpĂ¨ra de Paris.
His answer to feeling somewhat stifled by the rigidity, regularity and pomposity of his day job was to harness his sharp-edged sense of humor and summon a group of equally energetic dancers to skewer, in movement and verse, everyone and everything on his mind.
FranĂ§ois Alu Hors Cadre was the result. A two-night journey into the mind of a joyously raucous rebel and his collaborators who all have energy, creativity and talent to spare. Hors Cadre could be translated from the French as out-of-the-box but in this instance it was also unfettered, uncensored and unleashed. Eschewing such bothersome conventions as naming or even defining the beginning and ending of each piece, Alu created an evening that flowed from one morsel to another only somewhat explained in the written program by a list of composers and performers and some explanatory notes by Alu and his collaborator and fellow ballet dancer/impresario, Samuel Murez.
Simon Le Borgne, FranĂ§ois Alu, Takera Coste, ClĂ©mence Gross, HugoVigliotti, and Lydie Vareihes
The evening opened to a jammed house at the historic ThĂ©Ă˘tre Antoine in Paris with a humorous look at an outcast being relentlessly bugged, bothered, harassed and perturbed by a group of suits. While not the most original of ideas, the audaciously quirky movement vocabulary, timing and commitment of the ensemble to their characters and to each other made it work. Unapologetically wearing a Ruth Bader Ginsburg-style collar and inward focus, the object of their derision and desire did everything within her power to resist their antics and remain in her own sphere. As a commentary on the overwhelming stimulation in a city like Paris, I felt her pain.
A beautiful and delicate pas de deux for FranĂ§ois Alu and ClĂ©mence Gross enabled Alu to reveal his all-encompassing gifts as a partner. Draping her over his arms and barely allowing her to touch the floor, the two skimmed back and forth across the stage completely engrossed in their slow melt into one another. All of this loveliness was harshly interrupted by a crass voice-over, in English, of a ruthless critic named Burt. Burt called out the choreography as boring, insulted the creator as lacking creativity and generally made a nuisance of himself. Why this (inner) critic was given English as his language—which was also displayed upstage on monitors somewhat like subtitles—wasn’t clear. Burt became more and more agitated as the dancers continued unhindered.
Alu took many opportunities to comment upon the rules and regs of ballet, especially as practiced at the oldest house of all: L’OpĂ©ra de Paris. Dressed in full Louis XIV drag, he laid down the rules as originally envisioned by the Sun King (who created the institution around 1669). After dictating exactly how everything should be done, the King took his leave and Alu continued his assault on the stifling aspects of his mĂ©tier. He riffed, with full command of his physical instrument, about the absurdity of transferring choreography from one body to another. Counting out the movements in ever-expanding measures of time, he mimicked the impossibly difficult process of a class or rehearsal in which one tries to convey and transfer physical meaning to others. While his physicality and sound effects were all great fun, there was also a poignancy to his message. This is (expletive deleted) hard work for those
who must interpret the moves of others. He continued with an excerpt from Don Quixote stating this is definitely not by Rudolf Nureyev and a loving parody of a Japanese video he had seen on YouTube. His sources abound.
After gently but sufficiently parodying ballet, Alu turned his needle-sharp eye toward the commodification of contemporary art. Lydie Vareihes, ballerina turned bull shit artist, played the role of the promoter while Alu became her foil, the unsuspecting genuine artist who showed up with his integrity intact. Their interaction was nothing short of hilarious. Vareihes spoke in the perfect patois of a Parisian youth perennially distracted by ambition and the hunger to be recognized. Yet, because of the painful truths encapsulated in their interaction, the laughter contained a hint of bitterness. The artist wanted to show the producer his ideas but the producer had no time. He had to attend to media interviews, Instagram, Facebook, etc. What he was looking for was something intense. Something that would express the audacity of the moment. Something that would … Alu demonstrated a few of his ideas. Yeah, yeah, something like
that but could you make it more … audacious? He sells his soul and afterward three hipsters discuss what they saw. One daring to question the lack of depth while the others repeated the lines they had undoubtedly seen repeatedly on social media: audacity of the moment. Definitely.
FranĂ§ois Alu and Lydie Vareihes
In the most personal of the pieces, a furiously fast movement sequence was repeated in various incarnations to a beautiful and revealing spoken poem possible entitled “i deconstruct myself.” First riffing on the mathematical possibilities of breaking down numbers but also things, he slipped in personal reflections on his state of mind and being. Once he danced through the entire poem in French, he stated, “I deconstruct myself. And I can do it in English.” And he did.
Ending the evening with a great big bunch of showing off by his mates Simon Le Borgne and Hugo Vigliotti, Alu created a kind of hip hop challenge but with ballet-based moves improvised into the personal styles of each dancer. The audience laughed until they cried for these souls laid bare—just trying to have a little fun.
Photos courtesy of Julien Benhamou
Cover Photo: FranĂ§ois Alu Hors Cadre
(ClĂ©mence Gross, Lydie Vareihes, Hugo Vigliotti)