Anatomia Publica, developed by Tomeo Vergés and Véronique Petit and shown here as part of the London International Mime Festival, is a dance piece telling the story of a returning soldier, presumed dead, who discovers that his wife is in a relationship with another man. But at its core is an innovation that takes us away from this simple narrative, and into a realm of further reaching possibility.
The device developed centres on the theme of repetition: like a glitch in the matrix, or an old video tape on hold, the performers loop each everyday movement as if they cannot move onto the next stage until a cycle has been completed. The result is turbulent and hypnotic: we watch a series of scenes that played naturalistically might take five minutes in total, extended into a one hour performance piece in which every avenue of every manoeuvre is explored, and layer upon layer is developed.
It is perhaps not a wholly new concept – but none of the precedents that come to my mind are in performance. Take the visual artist Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho – a film installation in which Hitchcock’s film is slowed down to two frames a second, and takes a day to watch. Or the French novelist Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie – a novel in which the movements of the characters and the layout of the scene are relayed with mathematical precision. Anatomia Publica achieves what both of these works also manage to do – to take fairly routine sequences from actual life, to break them down, and to uncover their rich depths.
But this is more than a slowed down version of a scene, or a detailed map of its movements. The performers Sébastien Laurent, Sandrine Maisonneuve, Alvaro Morell and Véronique Petit – none of who can be singled out, because they’re all excellent – reveal the uncertainties at the heart of every movement. A strangle becomes an embrace, a laugh a seizure. In this way they externalise the indecisions – the multiplicity, even – that lie behind every gesture, physical and psychological. It’s like Sliding Doors, but far more complex, and without Gwyneth Paltrow. Not only is latent potential uncovered – these alternative readings accumulate, and to mesmeric effect.
Thomas Fernier’s minimal composition accompanies all this perfectly. My one criticism, which I know is unfair, is that Maxime Kurver and Sophie Hampe’s design work, though also minimal, still does too much – detracting from the openness and simplicity of the concept, which I think requires nothing but a direct engagement with the performers.
Quibbles aside, Anatomia Publica is a real tour de force – and another excellent find from the IMF.