Véronique Doisneau, a member of the corps de ballet at the Paris Opéra, was on the eve of her retirement at age 42 when she made the film for Jérôme Bel. She reports her disappointment at not having risen beyond occasional demi-soloist roles, and at the end she dances a scene from the one she coveted most, Giselle, humming the music to herself on an empty stage in an empty theater.
Doisneau is touching, and so was Cédric Andrieux in his performance at the ICA. Andrieux told of his early training (his first teachers told him initially that he was "not at all gifted"), his years studying at the Paris Conservatoire ("like the French version of Fame"), his coming to New York from France and eventually dancing with Merce Cunningham. His early years in Cunningham's company were filled with anxiety about his supposed inadequacies as a dancer. Then he fell in love with someone in the company and stayed for another four happy years. He left to dance a multi-choreographer repertory in the Lyon Opéra Ballet. There he met Trisha Brown, who was setting two of her works on the company.
It's Brown whose unembellished performing Jérome Bel is trying to re-create in these portraits. We got a glimpse of this candid but dispassionate delivery when Neal Beasley danced Watermotor (1978) during the Trisha Brown Company performances at the ICA theater. But in Bel's pieces, instead of looking natural, Doisneau (on film) and Andrieux (live and on film) came across as studied. They had the disaffected air of crime witnesses who've been grilled many times and can tell their story without betraying any shock. "Natural" becomes another performing style.
Once the '60s dancers eliminated formal dance technique and its rehearsed expressivity, they had a baseline for displacing our assumptions, not only about the performer's body but about performance itself. People did everyday movements in totally un-everyday structures, like Trisha Brown's Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, or they did bizarre things in an ordinary way or handled incongruous props: Lucinda Childs using a lettuce dryer as a hairnet in Carnation, or Yvonne Rainer's iconic Trio A, a litany of invented moves performed with purposeful neutrality. These efforts were reductive, but not really minimal compared to the repetitive, rigorous walking dances of Childs and Laura Dean a few years later.
I guess dancer Trajal Harrell and sculptor Sarah Sze were thinking of the early, what-can-we-do-with-the-bare-essentials experiments for their collaboration The Untitled Still Life Collection. Commissioned as a Co-Lab project of the ICA and Summer Stages Dance, this 20-minute duet was performed several times in a gallery, for an audience of 30 seated on campstools. In an invitational preview, Harrell and Christina Vasileiou stretched two lengths of string between them to make parallel lines and loops. She draped the string around his shoulders. He swayed sensuously. She answered with strong, angular movements. Later he lapped up the string as she held the other end in her mouth. They drew closer together, but not close enough to kiss. They performed all their string-games very conscientiously but they didn't look as if they were having fun.