Madeleine Fournier Branle (c) Nicolas Marie

review, article

Festival d’Automne 2023 part 2: The more the merrier

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Madeleine Fournier, Branle. Photo © Nicolas Marie
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Echoes, dissonance and unison, exploring the stage as a group

Whereas my first series of the Paris Festival d’Automne shows was made up of solo and duo performances, this second series brought together group shows, and very contrasting energies and inspirations.

Alice Ripoll, Zona Franca

A group of ten young people at the back of the stage wait for the audience to sit down, hum Brazilian songs, dance and celebrate. Little by little, the party grows, taking over the stage and transforming into a feverish desire to move together. Blending the codes of urban dance, breakdance, voguing, passinho, contemporary and contact dance, Zona Franca develops a hybrid and unique language of movement. As in all her projects, choreographer Alice Ripoll works with dancers from the favelas, and takes the pulse of Brazilian society. With Zona Franca, created in 2023, she explores the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, very destructive in Brazil, as well as the hope rising again with Lula’s election.

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Zona Franca, Alice Ripoll. Photo © Renato Mangolin
Zona Franca, Alice Ripoll. Photo © Renato Mangolin

The exhilaration of dance and music alternates with suspended moments of delicate trios and duets. The dancers communicate a whole range of emotions: phenomenal energy, powerful anger, overflowing joy, a desire to devour the future, a need for others. The choreography highlights each dancer’s unique movement style: one dancer is the ‘flex girl’ of the group, with supple, seemingly endless movements, while another adopts a rougher style that somehow conveys rage. They bellydance, they twerk, they carry each other, touch each other, do incredible jumps and unimaginable footwork. It is a joyful celebration of the body, flooded with glitter and confetti that fall as little by little they burst the balloons suspended above them.

Zona Franca is an explosion of youth and energy, a joyful and profound moment, in a nutshell: a gem.

Nacera Belaza, Sur le fil

After the glitters and the fiery parade of Zona Franca, the universe of choreographer Nacera Belaza contrasts completely. ‘Sur le fil’ means ‘on the edge’, and we are indeed on the edge of the invisible. On a stage almost entirely immersed in darkness, silhouettes swirl through a very (very) weak beam of light in the centre, carried by the insistent rhythm of the music. These are children that Belaza invited to add a new opening to her piece Sur le fil, created in 2016 at Montpellier Danse. This part slowly evolves towards the heart of the choreography.

The fleeting figures give way to three dancers: Nacera Belaza, Dalila Belaza and Aurélie Berland. Dressed in similar black outfits, they take turns in the light. We can barely glimpse the other two figures, standing very close in the shadows. The darkness seems to swallow the dancers and to spit them out in the light, it feels thick and deep as Chinese ink. There is something infinitely fluid in these bodies that succeed and replace each other, a continuous flow of rhythm and movement. A solo, but by three dancers? They continue one after the other the same uncontrolled and swirling dance. The piece ends with a solo by Nacera Belaza, during which the brightness intensifies a little. It feels like recovering sight after almost an hour of near darkness, which was both a fascinating and somewhat disturbing sensory experience.

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Sur le fil, Nacera Belaza. Photo © Claudia Pajewski
Sur le fil, Nacera Belaza. Photo © Claudia Pajewski

When the light comes back on the stage for greetings, the children seem uncomfortable and impressed. Retrospectively, the darkness appears as a space of freedom in which they dared to let go and swirl across the stage. They were able to show us just what they wanted — nothing more, nothing less. The stage experience proposed by Nacera Belaza then seems as rich and innovative for the audience as for the dancers on stage: a way to show less, to show better.

Madeleine Fournier, Branle

The audience sits in a circle around the dance space. At one point of the circle is a platform with two musicians, a pianist-singer and a uilleann pipes player. They set the tone, mystical and folkloric at the same time. Choreographer Madeleine Fournier and her dancers enter the dance space and do some clownish pirouettes, dressed in two-tone leggings. They remind me of jesters. Little by little their leaps cease, and give way to the regular and discreetly complex step of a traditional French dance: the two-beat bourrée. From the incessant repetition of this stage, they move in space, cross, meet, leave, the group creates patterns and then disintegrates. The uilleann pipes keep playing the same tune over and over, as regular as the steps.

For those who know and love the world of balfolk and traditional dance, we feel for a short time this magical beauty of the parquet floor that cracks under the regularity of the steps, and the group carried by the same pace.

But this does not last: the piece misses (or chooses to miss) the opportunity to take the viewer into this possible trance. Instead, Fournier chooses oddity and diverts the viewer’s attention: while continuing their steps, the dancers take biscuits or eggs out of their pockets. They snack on the cookies, play with the eggs and almost knock them down … Something gets out of hand in this well-oiled mechanics of the dance. And in the end, we focus on the eggs everywhere on the ground – and no longer on the performance. A pity, as the starting material, this centuries-old dance originating in the centre of France, was full of promise.

After seeing seven shows in a three-month festival, I can’t draw any conclusions about the entire 2023 edition. This conclusion is tough to write because the festival does not have a line or theme, and it may be difficult to sense coherence. It provides a wide overview of the international landscape as well as a vast programme from which to choose one’s own itinerary. Personally, the festival enabled me to catch up with several shows and discover artists whose future work I’ll be keeping an eye out for. 

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Paris, France
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See also Part 1 of Elsa Vinet’s visit to Festival d’Automne 2023