There’s a maverick, holy fool who works in director/choreographer Philippe Decoufle. He draws on so many cultural references – the Marx Brothers, Tex Avery Cartoons, high and low art, circus, music – that ‘Contact’ his latest work at Sadler’s Wells, is a surfeit of pleasure. Yet it has license to thrill.
The narrative thread is Goethe’s Faust, an unlikely backdrop, who barters his soul in return for knowledge and worldly pleasures. His descent is pitched against a kitsch, cloud-filled, Baroque heaven, peopled with aerialists, ruffed angelic hosts and the demi-monde of the Moulin Rouge. The result is ingenious: a meld of dance and illusion which constantly deconstructs itself.
Decoufle trained with Marcel Marceau, Merce Cunningham and choreographer Alvin Niklais. His eclectic approach is influenced by the stage-craft of Pina Bausch. He formed DCA in 1983 and since then has show-manned his way to international success ‘somewhere between Jacques Tati and Cirque du Soleil.’
In ‘Contact’ songs, sketches, video effects and superlative dance and choreography provide an explosion of energy and exuberance from the high to the low. Costumes by Laurence Chalou are outrageously gorgeous: Faust in a purple, floor-length skirt with man-patterned socks or Gautier-inspired headpieces protrude like insect proboscis. There’s even a double-headed woman.
The style is tongue in cheek. Everyone, regardless of gender, is called Johnny. Long grey wigs cover faces. Bodies are clad in colourful, multi-textured designs; while existential text is projected or sung straight from the Parisian left-bank, with a strong whiff of the Seine.
Geometry, owing much to the art of Marcel Duchamps, is manipulated with kaleidoscopic, Rorschach effect as dancers or Gaudi-inspired backdrops are projected on the prismatic-like shell which constantly shifts and re-defines itself in Jean Rabasse’s clever design. While Patrice Besombes’ lighting and Olivier Simola’s video designs are breath-taking. Decoufle’s interest lies not with the Faust legend but in the ramification of its ideas.
Illusion is Decoufle’s calling card. The sum of the parts might not be to everyone’s taste, but Decoufle’s achievement is his artful sense of the irrational giving this form, and through his dancers, beauty. The fifteen-strong performers engage with love, art, knowledge and the divine: a Faustian Fantasia. ‘Contact’ appeals to the imagination in which rules are deliberately broken to produce ‘a joyous riotous tumble of ideas.’ With an original score by Nosfel and Pierre le Bourgeois, who play live, it is full of filmic and dance references, such as Powell and Pressburger’s ‘The Red Shoes.’ The piece closes as it began: ‘camera, action’ as the performers create CONTACT and the credits roll. It is an extraordinary piece: a theatre for the absurd that needs to be experienced than believed.