They were right.
Earnest Hemingway and Langston Hughes. Only in the cultural feast of Paris could one feel so hungry. Quite literally, I’m starving in this city. The streets have alternating smells of piss and fresh bread. The store fronts have alternating displays of pharmaceuticals and fresh bread. The people have alternating perfumes of B.O. and fresh bread. And the Monoprix (think Parisian Target) has alternating isles of wine and packaged, but probably fresh-tasting, bread. After walking all morning and dancing all evening, what do I crave? Chocolate…and FRESH BREAD. What can’t I have? Bread (the freshness really isn’t a factor). So I simply settle for the chocolate (which is satisfying in the moment but altogether fleeting and innutritious). I would post something to the effect of “How to Survive in Paris If You Have Celiac and Are Ballin’ on a Budget” but I haven’t quite figured it out for myself. Cappuccinos are my only answer thus far.
Nonetheless, I’m trying to fill myself up with dance (and art, less specifically). Seeing performances, taking classes, choreographing—it’s a very saturated environment here. Advertisements for concerts pepper the walls of every metro station and thick newspapers devoted to the arts are handed out freely. I found Michael Clark’s “Come, been and gone” at the Grande Hall at La Villette to be underwhelming at best but it was a good exercise in acuity. It was performed in two acts. I realized later that Act II would not have existed without Act I. Rather, Act I was the exposition—setting the scene with classical lines, methodical angles, textbook spatial design, and studio-style phrases. Act II brought the climax (and pithy resolution). Phrases unhinged and revealed a quirky, almost rebellious nature. The soundtrack was a mash up of late 80’s/early 90’s pop rock classics. The anthems, flashes of lights, projections of David Bowie’s face, and Mylar balloon body suits… It was surely a throwback to a time when codified techniques were being challenged by an uncodified culture.
“The Complexity of Belonging” performed by Australian-based Chunky Move at the Théâtre du Chaillot was something different entirely. It was text, technology, and movement integrated and I hung on to every word, camera pan, and sinewy limb. Poor lady next to me must have thought I broke out in hives because I kept itching. Every time a dancer burst into soliloquy, I itched. Every time the “not-so-sacred” Asian woman and the “not-so-womanly” Asian man moved in elastic, spiraling matrimony, I itched. Every time the “perfect-man” woman spouted out the next bullet of her 176 bullet-point list of desirable qualities in a partner while being tossed across the stage like a rag doll, I itched. (My mouth also gaped like a helpless guppy during that one.) The dancers on stage were more like relatable friends. They candidly presented things without forecasting any ways to change, fix, or manipulate them. They gave new meaning to the laissez-faire philosophy, “it is what it is.” They wove a grander narrative of loving, being loved, connecting, being connected, longing, and belonging. (They also addressed the concept of “Abo” time, which is a spiraling construct of time as opposed to a linear construct like we commonly regard it. It was, for me, analogous to studying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity for the first time.)
Yoann Bourgeois’ “Celui Qui Tombe” (One That Falls) at the Théâtre de la Ville was a dance and physics fanfare. Bourgeois is known for his circus displays but it was hardly circus and more science than just physics. I suppose the plays of emotion and relationship were in there too, but picture this: a stage with the ability to rotate clockwise and counterclockwise, tilt on horizontal and vertical planes, swing side to side, and otherwise pivot in all conceivable directions. If Bourgeois aimed to play with imagery, he most certainly hit the mark. The most stunning and enduring image for me was when the stage shifted from the horizontal plane to the vertical.
Gravity pulled at the dancers until five were situated on the floor. One lanky man defied its pull and clung to the platform’s edge as if using all his might to remain coupled to a rocky precipice. Other instances of imagery harkened to the diagrams of the evolution of man. The dancers began limp and vulnerable allowing the quasi tilt-a-whirl to gently toss their weight. As they gained strength, or awareness, or yearning, or what have you, they started advancing the stage’s varying slopes—crawling, walking, running, ascending, disembarking, controlling. Essentially, I was witnessing the best use for a giant, deluxe Scrabble board.
Throughout the course of the two weeks, I’ve also seen Manuel Roque’s solo, “Data” and Daniel Léveillé’s “Solitudes duo” at the Cartoucherie (which, let me tell you, is the most charming arts venue ever. It’s a collective of repurposed warehouses with a quaint cafeteria that sells the best-smelling pasta for fairly cheap. Unfortunately, I couldn’t experience the pasta but I ate an apple and journal-ed on their slatted wood chairs), DeLaVallet Bidiefono’s “Au-delà” at the Musée Quai Branley, and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Golden Hours (As you like it) at the Théâtre de la Ville. I have less succinct words for those performances.
There has been less choreographing and more source material. End of the program solos are to be based upon our time at our assigned “dérives” or drifts. My dérive includes the Sacré-Cœur—a mosque whose construction began in 1875 and is seated at the top of the highest hill of Paris, the “Mount of Martyrs” or Montmartre. The hill is quite the hike and I’m certain is representative of many artists’ struggles. It’s a place of artistic and spiritual pilgrimage and an establishment that saw the desolation brought by years of war. Yet still, it proves to be a place of solace, filled with trust, hope, and faith. I would pay six euros every day just to start my mornings at the top of the Sacré-Cœur. I would actually wake up in the mornings just so I could have a morning to spend at the top of the Sacré-Cœur. After climbing to the top, being anywhere else merely makes one feel mortal. The 300 narrow stone steps to the summit were almost impossible. Naturally, I didn’t want to come down so instead, I stretched my neck through the open spaces between each and every column for about an hour. The air was cleaner there. A pigeon settled in a neighboring dome. What would it be like to experience Paris as a bird? Soaring to magnificent heights and nesting in crevices unscathed by human desire. Even to my less capable, mammalian eyes, the Eiffel Tower looked like a monument erected for ants and the Arc de Triumph looked like a block of aged cheese. These are the beginnings of my solo.
As I was saying earlier, the best way to experience Paris is hungry. The dietary restrictions, the collegiate budget, the zeal for culture; it is hunger and gustation concurrently. Most of all, it is consciousness. Paris is the sought after antidote to mindlessness. Paris is irrefutably a “Moveable Feast”.
P.S. The following pictures chronicle my recent adventures outside of the Paris theaters: