Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dance Review: “Coup de Foudre,” Baker, Van Peebles, and DJ Spooky at the Guggenheim Museum

Jean Cocteau's "Blood of a Poet"

Coupe de Foudre, a theatrical reinterpretation of surrealist film maker Jean Cocteau’s 1930 film "Blood of a Poet," gives a sudden intense feeling of love as the French title suggests as well as many other emotions as the audience remained in awe of this artistic collaboration of three generations of African American artists at the Guggenheim Museum.  Corey Baker, Co-Artistic director of Ballet Noir and performer in Fela! on Broadway, performed as a dancer/actor physically interpreting the onscreen performance of characters in the film blending the present and past of art interpretation.  Paul Miller, a.k.a DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, accompanied by Telos Ensemble, rescores the music creating an eerie, haunting, mystical mood to the stage, and Melvin Van Peebles filmmaker/director of “Sweetback” in the 1960’s gives a dynamic performance adding dialogue as he interprets the French poetry of the film.  It completely appeals to all the senses and takes the audience literally into a whirlwind of a theatrical experience. 

The most exhilarating moments occur when Corey appears in the audience on the stairs one moment, as a shadow on screen the next, or a character crawling in space.  Are You Fierce?  Join iDANZ Today!Melvin’s voice gives explanation to the black and white silent film as DJ Spooky takes the audience on a musical journey through time from the days of Josephine Baker to the new sounds of the twenty first century.

"I walk through my blindness the way I saunter down streets in Paris: unfiltered and alive: enchanted and enjoyed by the raw material of the senses.  I am a blind flaneur.  Come along with me.  Just don’t try to take my arm, unless I ask," Melvin recites as the film plays and Corey appears at the beginning of the show.  The theater is a white sphere with intense lighting design by Scott Bolman focusing on the statuesque, brown muscular body of dancer Corey Baker in contrast to the white statue on film.  There is a two-sided mirror, a wooden chair placed in front, a door with the number 17 stage left, and a black wall stage right.  A story line begins with a young man, a poet, attempting to draw a series of faces.  Suddenly, the mouth of one of these Corey Baker, Co-Artistic Director of Ballet Noirfaces rubs off in his hand and starts smiling.  Terrified, the poet accidently smears off the mouth of the statue he was working on previously.  The statue comes to life and, in return, forcefully sends the young man through the mirror to another imaginary location at a mysterious hotel.

Corey Baker, as the poet, does a series of hand gestures looking into his hand, drawing on the mirror, running to the wall in sync with the actor on screen.  A spinning head on the screen symbolizes unconsciousness and the entering of a dream world.  Corey floats across the screen in a black silhouette as he falls out of reality.   With gorgeous technique, he performs slow controlled spiraling turns, hinges, attitude turns and extensions with beautifully sculpted balletic arms, as if swimming, and climbing up a wall.  He becomes each of the characters the poet encounters in a strange hotel:  a little boy, a man in a painting, children in a scene throwing snowballs. 

Melvin Van PeeblesMelvin recites lessons of love, speaks of inner silence, deliverance, infinite precaution, and of nothing being premeditated in life.  There are references to Homer and other Greek myths as each scene becomes more intense. The audience is stunned as a young boy is beat until he bleeds and the poet shoots himself in the head.  Corey slips in an out of each character with ease with moments of still statuesque movement, then spinning, falling, running to a door, jumping off the stage into the audience in a state of despair and disillusion.  At the climax of the film the poet commits suicide twice!  The final time, after sitting in front of the woman he loves apprehensively with his heart beating out his chest, the gun appears, and, almost like a moment in animation, blood leaks from his temple; and there, stamped at his temple, is the Star of David.

This scene in the 1930’s would have been overdramatic or bizarre but with this theatrical version performed with Corey, Melvin, and DJ Spooky, Jean Cocteau’s film has much more depth.  The poet dies and his lover becomes stone like the statue.  A black angel comes to the scene reminiscent of the biblical angel Gabriel.  In the audience, coming from a staircase is Corey descending from Heaven as the angel.  The perfect lighting and ethereal sounds of DJ Spooky and the violinist set the mood for this theatrical ending.

In Jean Cocteau’s film, there are people walking through mirrors where they encounter the deepest psychological aspects of themselves. There are people walking upside down reciting poetry while they are painted into a canvas. The paintings come to life and the sculptures speak.  Poetry becomes a film scene and a character’s dialogue.  In Blood of a Poet, one of the central themes is that inanimate objects possess mortal properties, and subsequently perform a play within a play, a film within a film. 

DJ Spooky, Photography by Roberto MasottiIn the post-performance conversation with the creators, we learn that Cocteau’s compelling work also inspired the great Russian ballet-master, Sergei Diaghilev, to produce “Parade” with Pablo Picasso as designer.   According to Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, Jean Cocteau has a fascination with the relationship between technology and theatricality which is what DJ Spooky explains as his inspiration for rescoring Blood of a Poet.  Corey explains his approach to creating the choreography for this work as done more from an actor’s perspective and less about choreographing beautiful dance.  According to Corey, he reworks certain elements of the piece following the musical changes while paying close attention on being true to the character.  He masterfully incorporates all elements of his dance background (modern, ballet, African, and hip hop) which gives the work a beautiful, honest feeling.  Melvin describes the language of the 1930’s and the poetry in Jean Cocteau’s film. Translating French to English words wasn’t enough to get the audience to understand, it requires him also translating the slang or flapper language of that time as he calls it. 

All in all, this is a stellar performance, and there are even talks of “Coup de Foudre” touring the nation.  As we progress in technology and continue to mix art with the theatrical world, we will see other collaborations such as this one which will greatly be appreciated by those seeking entertainment that provokes strong emotions and sparks the intellect.

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Official Dance Review by Carmen Carriker
Performance:  "Coupe de Foudre" with D.J. Spooky and Ballet Noir
Venue:  Guggenheim Museum
Show Date:  October 10, 2010
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