I saw *Espæce* at BAM on 6/20/19.
It’s a work of what’s known as physical theater, created by Aurélien Bory for Compagnie 111, with music by Joan Cambon. Physical theater is an art form that uses physical movement as its primary method of storytelling, but somehow isn’t quite what one would call dancing.
*Espæce* was inspired by the book *Espèces d’espaces* (“species of spaces”) by Georges Perec. The piece started with the five performers standing against a wall reading paperback books with excerpts from the Perec projected onto the wall. This led to the five performers curling their books and holding them up against the wall to form letters and words. It was so darling and inventive and perfectly set the tone for the performance.
The next scene started with three steel pipes, nearly as wide as the stage, coming down from the flies on cables. Three of the performers, Guilhem Benoit, Cochisse Le Berre, and Katell Le Brenn, danced with the pipes. The pipes swung back and forth more or less in unison and the dancers started by grabbing onto the pipes and sliding across the stage, propelled by the swinging pipe. They did this one by one, creating a staggered pattern. Eventually the movement became more involved, and by the finish they each held the pipes briefly so the swinging was offset from the other two pipes. It was hypnotic.
Claire Lefilliâtre was the primary performer in the next scene, singing a song from Schubert’s *Winterreise,* a cappella. She has a lovely voice, she totally held the stage and was especially impressive in the physical movement she was required to do. Not every classical singer can do this kind of thing! I thought of my friend Mimmi Fulmer, this is just the kind of thing she would do well, with her adventurous spirit.
One of the long middle scenes featured the wall folding into sections and the performers interacting with it in alarming ways. At one point the wall folded up to have a gap of just a few feet in the middle and one of the performers shimmied up the wall and sat on the top. It appeared to be about thirty feet tall, which is what made it alarming. Later in this sequence this same guy hung off the top by his fingers. Maybe this was danger implied through theatrical magic, but it sure didn’t look that way. In any case, it was exciting to watch.
The most memorable scene was a solo scene by singer Olivier Martin-Salvan. It was a cappella and more or less without words - - sometimes maybe they were words in a foreign language but mostly they were made-up words or odd descriptive sounds. The scene stated off being a battle between two fighter pilots. After a while there was an offstage female voice answered by a young male voice, and we realized that what we’d been watching was a little boy playing at being two fighter pilots, and his mother in the next room. This was all done by that one singer, a virtuosic display for both him and the composer.
[Photo by Max Gordon courtesy of the BAM Press Office]