Charged with Dadaist energy
BECKET - Sometimes a trombone is just a trombone.
Trying to make linear sense of Jean-Claude Gallotta’s “Des Gens Qui Dansent’’ is a waste of time, and I don’t mean that dismissively. Rather, it seems almost condescending to box in this dance-theater piece, which is often Dada-like in its mayhem while also being full of heart. Oh, yes, and it’s funny, in that wittily absurd way that is undeniably - and enviably - French.
A man sits down, for instance, and bleats out a few notes on that trombone, but it’s got nothing to do with anything. The performers speak in several languages - including Gallotta’s own invented jibberish - and sometimes whoop with what, surprise? Joy? And yelp with pain.
Part of a trilogy in which Gallotta has cast dancers of varying ages and abilities, this piece, receiving its US premiere at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, is often purposely pedestrian. But the 10 members of Gallotta’s Grenoble-based company, Groupe Emile Dubois, are fully in the moment, each moment, regardless of the level of dance technique being required of them.
We can see that these are real dancers - albeit at various stages in their careers - but that’s not the point, either. Only once or twice does the whole group assemble to execute a traditional dance phrase, and occasionally couples do pair off for a deranged foxtrot of sorts. A man in a suit - Thierry Verger - appears throughout, his long body twitchily piercing the space around him, and Galotta himself threads through the piece, often anxiously muttering, rapping, or singing into a microphone. Tall, blonde, and leggy, Beatrice Warrand seems to be an object of desire that others can’t keep their hands off; she has to spike her way out of several embraces. Never violent, these skirmishes nonetheless are darkly suggestive.
Though desolation in a cacophonous world is certainly evoked, the main theme that emerges, surprisingly, is love. Amid the riot of comings and goings, undeniably tender duets, trios, and quartets form. Martin Kravitz and Christophe Delachaux share two silly, comradely duets, pinching the other’s nose or ear, gregariously lumbering around in a quasi-drunken state, bellowing what could be opera fragments or pool-hall ditties. Kravitz also pairs up with Françoise Bal-Goetz for what would be called, in a big story ballet, a grand pas de deux, promenades, and lifts. That these two lovers are “mature’’ beings whose dance steps only suggest a former virtuosity hardly matters: The romance is palpable.
The entire stage is exposed - all backdrops and wings are up, and we see the performers sitting, resting, and watching the others - but these set pieces are intimate, private.
The big quartet composed of Verger and three women is gorgeous, rife with imagery that at times recalls George Balanchine’s “Apollo.’’
Echoing earlier visual themes of envelopment, clasping, and wrapping, Verger at one point takes a woman, wraps one hand around her stomach and puts the other on her sternum, then lowers her fully outstretched body to the ground; he repeats this with the other two women, gently stacking them on top of one another. Then he lies behind them, snakes his hand up and over, and for a moment the four are safely cocooned.
Near the beginning of “Des Gens Qui Dansent,’’ Warrand states that she dances to stop the misery in the world, but, she says, “it doesn’t work.’’
Actually, sometimes, in a small way, it does.