The great 18th-century French writer and philosopher Voltaire famously said, “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” His 55-year-old compatriot Philippe Decoufle would probably agree.
The celebrated dancer, choreographer, mime artist and theater director burst onto the international stage with his daringly surreal, circus-inspired choreography for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Winter Olympics in the French town of Albertville.
Since then Decoufle has gone on to write and direct with Cirque du Soleil, while DCA — the company he founded in 1983 — is renowned for edgy, hybrid productions featuring acrobatic feats, multi-media, dance and, of course, illusion.
Now, from Oct. 28 to 30, he is bringing that magical mix to Saitama Arts Theater with “Contact,” a piece whose title is a nod to the German dance legend Pina Bausch and her 1978 work “Kontakthof.”
However, as Decoufle says in a recent phone interview with The Japan Times, the production also owes a lot to the art of musicals.
“I’ve always been inspired by musicals, like ‘West Side Story’ or the Fred Astaire movies, so I wanted to create a homage to that genre,” he explains. “When I was working on ‘Contact’ it was also a little after Pina Bausch died (in 2009), and I feel my company has some similarities to hers in the diversity of the dancers: small, big, black, white. We both celebrate a very different mix of dancers. So I wanted a homage to Pina, too.”
Then Decoufle offers a fascinating insight into why his spellbinding shows typically seem to knit together like a gradually visible enigma, saying, “They’re always created like puzzles.”
Hence with “Contact,” he says, “the first pieces — a homage to musicals and to Pina Bausch — emerged. Then I kept finding other pieces and fitting them together to create the whole.”
In addition, besides its eclectic mix of live music by Decoufle’s frequent collaborators, cellist Pierre Lebourgeois and rock artist Nosfell, another key element of “Contact” is the literary masterpiece “Faust” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a play in which the frustrated scholar Faust sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.
“I needed a story as a base,” Decoufle explains, “and I searched for a universal story and thus fitted in ‘Faust.’ But our narrative is quite abstract and I just use images from ‘Faust’ to give ‘Contact’ its structure.”
Fans of dance shouldn’t miss this chance to see a showman at the top of his cabaret form — an artist whose name gave rise to a new French word created after those 1992 Olympics to refer to “an unusual meeting upon the stage of the worlds of dancing, circus and film.” That word is Decoufleries, and with “Contact,” Japanese audiences have a wonderful chance to sample it at source.
“This is the biggest piece I have created with DCA,” Decoufle says. “There are 14 people on stage and there’s acting, dancing, live music, live singing, a little bit of storytelling, acrobats flying in the air and the use of movies and video, too. It’s just a very complete show and the company is very excited. It is like a gift to us, to share our work in Japan.”
“Contact” runs Oct. 28. (7 p.m.) and Oct. 29 and 30 (both 3 p.m.) at Saitama Arts Theater. It is performed in French with partial Japanese subtitles, though 10 English-subtitle devices are available by prior reservation at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.saf.or.jp.
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