Odile Duboc roams the Florence Gould Hall stage as if sniffing out new territory. Yet she seems less interested in what this place is than in how it makes her feel. A small, slight woman in her mid-sixties, dressed in a black jersey and black overalls, with a birdsnest of curly gray hair, she treads the floor lightly. Her ODIL, improvised to a variety of taped selections, is studded with pauses; a sudden, her silkily feline drop to the floor is as surprising as her almost instant recovery from it. Sometimes she seems buffeted by mild winds; sometimes she tumbles and rolls. Appealing, yet aloof, Duboc dances as if she doesn’t want to impose on us but simply to invite us to watch her exploration.
A choreographer who has worked in theater and opera, Duboc is one of those who benefited from the French cultural policy decision to splinter some of the dance activity away from Paris by establishing Centres Chorégraphiques in smaller cities. Duboc’s company, Contre Jour, was ensconced in Belfort in 1990. For her group’s New York performances, she brought only five dancers in addition to herself, and only one section, a duet, from her important 1996 trois boléros. It’s impossible to guess from the three pieces she showed how she might handle a large ensemble.
In one sense, the dancers in both her trio 03 (2003) and boléro, two convey an image of moving sculpture, yet they rarely stop to let your eyes take in a pose. The three men, barely visible at first in Françoise Michel’s very dim opening lighting, seem both rooted to the ground and slippery as water over rocks. Pascal Contet’s tape score begins as a muted, eerie scuffle of sound. The lights gradually reveal Bruno Danjoux, David Drouard, and David Wampach (all three participated in the choreographic process). Virginie and Jean-Jacques Weil have dressed them like athletes in red shorts, black tank tops, and supple, tight-fitting boots, with the spooky addition of black ski masks that cover everything but their eyes.
Even if their faces were bare, we’d have a hard time getting to know them. They stand bent over, the better to negotiate the flow of three-person lifts and supports. Never traveling from one spot, always connected in one way or another, they show no effort, even in the most difficult maneuvers. As if by instinct, they seem to grow slowly and smoothly around one another, constantly changing their winding paths and their roles in each.
In Duboc’s full-length trois boléros, Ravel’s famous musical orgy is heard three times, interpreted by three different recorded orchestras and conductors. Sergiu Celibidache leads by the RAI Symphony Orchestra for the duet, boléro, two. This version of the music seems slightly slower and lighter than the usual driving one. In any case, the choreographer pays little attention to the repeating melody’s inexorable build, instead deriving eroticism from the constant smooth, shifting pressure of body against body.
Like the three men in trio 03, Stéphany Ganachaud and Danjoux travel very little through space; in a pool of light, they investigate each other and what they want to achieve together. Dressed by Dominque Fabrègue in white clothes that bare most of their backs, they stand slightly apart at first, but already their bodies are curving in anticipation of coming together. They twine into intimate positions unhurriedly, almost somnolently. Danjoux keeps his head pressed against Ganachaud as much as possible; an armpit becomes an archway to travel through or nestle into. He often lifts her; she never lifts him.
We come to know them better than we know the men in trio 3—perhaps because of moments we identify as tender. She rests her head briefly on his palm. Near the end, when the music suddenly brays, he lies with his head in her lap. For them, this engagement, like tantric sex, reaches no climax. As the lights dim, in the silence after the music and recorded applause have ended, the two are still growing together like vines blindly seeking the light.