Los Angeles and the Monnier-Duroure company are obviously made for one another--if only because of a shared vision that all the world's a soundstage.
As in the duet "Extasis" (presented Saturday), the full-company "Mort de Rire" on Sunday created a stage-within-a-stage at the Japan America Theatre through the use of free-standing spotlights as scenic units. Here, however, the environmental context (designed by Beatrice Scarpatto) proved more explicit. At left, a decaying, bordello-ish setting with tattered red-velvet upholstered furniture and draped alcoves; at right, bare studio walls and the spotlights.
In this patently artificial space, French choreographers Mathilde Monnier and Jean-Francois Duroure assembled for their six-member company a defiantly nonlinear, astonishingly energetic, gloriously eccentric precis of late 20th-Century fantasies and obsessions.
Oddities of unisex chic and pouty glamour, impulses toward anarchy and revolution, questions of personal intimacy and group solidarity--"Mort de Rire" attacked every subject ravenously, physicalizing it as an intense movement-ritual or whimsical theater-game and then hurtling on to the next idea in a pattern of great cyclical, manic-depressive mood swings.
In bravura displays defining trust and responsibility, cast members would suddenly jump backwards into the air, only to be caught and tenderly set down again. In one duet, the jumper initiated a number of convincing false starts to fake out her partner. He caught her anyway.
Elsewhere, the performers kept their colleagues (who had suddenly gone limp) from collapsing to the floor and pulled one another across imaginary chasms, arm over arm.
Though other major motifs included a yearning for flight (expressed in both comic arm-flapping and more discreet fluttering of hands with crossed wrists), "Mort de Rire" was about nothing so much as this salutary concept of relationship: getting by with a little help from your friends.
Without letting up on the sense of pressure and risk (until the apotheosis), Monnier-Duroure introduced many types of movement, from conventional dancy (and mock-dancy) unisons to inventive resequencings of everyday motion.
At times, the wildly careening action recalled Pina Bausch's "Bluebeard." At others, the transfigurations of gymnastics suggested Pilobolus or Momix. And, of course, the spectacular partnering innovations reflected facets of the dancing in Monnier-Duroure's own "Pudique Acide" and "Extasis" duets the night before.
Equally eclectic, the sound collage by Christophe Sechet incorporated everything from Liszt and Bartok to vintage pop songs from a number of countries, with a special emphasis on Hungarian folk music.
Like the kilts of "Pudique Acide" and the petticoats of "Extasis," the costumes by Corinne Baudelot enforced a provocative uniformity: black shoes, trousers, suspenders--and brassieres--for men and women alike. (Late in the evening, the men went topless.)
At the end, after 90 minutes of punishing, full-out athleticism came release, epiphany, nirvana: a company picnic in antique costumes with everyone looking relaxed and very happy--except for a skittish pet pooch.
We'd seen these people virtually walk through fire for us--and most of all for each other. How unexpected, humane and archetypally French to place our last look at them in these idealized, out-of-time and only slightly tongue-in-cheek circumstances.