‘Total abandon’ for two landmark duos

by Kris Kosaka

Special To The Japan Times

Ballet audiences in Japan are widely acknowledged to be among the best in the world, but there’s still a lot to be learned here about contemporary dance. However, those seeing a show in a short tour of works by French choreographers Mathilde Monnier and Jean-Francois Duroure can be sure of enjoying a dance-history lesson of particular importance.

Fresh off performances last weekend in Aichi Prefecture, the pair bring “Pudique Acide / Extasis” — a major restaging of their first collaboration more than 20 years ago — to Arts Theater Kobe Dance Box on Nov. 2 and Saitama Arts Theater on Nov. 9.

The 70-minute work, which comprises two shows that each feature the same two dancers, reveals a special time in modern choreography. Created during the period of American Abstraction in dance, the productions continued the contemporary legacy begun with Francois Verret and Viola Farber, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch.

As Monnier explains: “These works really represent a specific moment in French dance history of the 1980s, and they reflect the spirit of that period — a relation between dance and theater, a very strict writing choreography and costumes influenced by punk fashion.

“These two pieces were created in New York and reflect the energy of that town as the energy of two young dancers who are discovering life and the dance scene.”

Set to music by Kurt Weill, who often worked with playwright Bertolt Brecht — including on “The Threepenny Opera,” which features his best-known song, “Mack the Knife” — and Bernard Hermann, a frequent collaborator with Alfred Hitchcock, both “Pudique Acide” and “Extasis” blend a strong narrative drive with the physical abstraction that is contemporary dance.

This time around, the pieces are performed by two fast-rising young French dancers, Sonai Darbois and Jonathan Pranlas. As Duroure explains in the program notes: “These two duos are complementary in how they touch the essentials. Dancing them requires total abandon.”

Monnier, who plans to meet contemporary dancers while in Japan by offering a special, free master class, told The Japan Times: “It has always been a dream to come here, as I have been to many places and theaters in Asia but strangely not yet to Japan.

“These two pieces were my first works. Since then I have done more than 35 creations that have toured in many countries all over the world. Now, of course, I feel much more mature but I am still always fragile as an artist who is searching and never satisfied.”

Currently the director of The Center for Choreography in the southern French city of Montpellier, Monnier’s chief focus is now with the next generation of contemporary dance. “The constant relation with the young artists is really important to me and helps me to continue to question myself and look for new formats of thinking and dancing and creating,” she explains.

With these performances in Japan, she says, she also wants to create bridges for the future. “I hope the Japanese audience will understand and enjoy the work,” she says. “I hope I will meet some artists, and I hope for some artistic exchanges for contemporary dance between Japan and Montpellier.”

“Pudique Acide / Extasis” will be performed on Nov. 2 at Arts Theater Kobe Dance Box (www.db-dancebox.org; 078-646-7044) and on Nov. 9 at Saitama Arts Theater (www.saf.or.jp; 048-858-5500). Ticket prices range up to ¥3,500.