Cédric Andrieux, on at The Dance Centre through Sunday as part of the PuSh Festival, is the latest in the series of dance portraits that Jérôme Bel (whose The Show Must Go On launched the 2010 PuSh Festival) has created in collaboration with and focusing on the lives of preeminent dancers working across a range of styles and techniques: Véronique Doisneau, a member of the corps de ballet of the Paris Opéra Ballet; Isabel Torres, prima ballerina of the Teatro Municpal do Rio de Janeiro; Pichet Kluchun, a Thai classical dance artist; Lutz Förster, longtime member of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal; and Andrieux, a contemporary dancer who for eight rigorous years danced under the recumbent but watchful eye of Merce Cunningham. Combining dance excerpts with autobiographical storytelling, these works, in Bel’s words, “mark the place where the life of an individual intersects the history of dance.” Part of that temporal marking comes from the use of first person address to the audience, speech in this instance stripping away dance’s conceit of technical virtuosity by contextualizing the time and labour that go into choreographed movement’s “timeless” execution, and in the process revealing the person behind the dancer.
And, in that respect alone, Andrieux is utterly charming. Walking onstage in sweats and toting a gym bag, he proceeds to tell us how, as a boy growing up in Brest, he fell in love with dance while watching the television series Fame. Encouraged by his mother, a fan of contemporary dance, Andrieux soon enrolls in the local dance studio, where he is immediately told that, given his body and meager talents, his prospects are not great, but that the experience will be good for his “development.” This is the first instance of Andrieux defying his critics, and soon he auditions for and is accepted into the Conservatoire in Paris, eventually graduating at the top of his class, and demonstrating for us the solo by Philippe Tréhet, Nuit Fragile, that he performed for his exam. All of this is told to us in a voice at once deadpan, brutally self-honest, and utterly sincere, with Andrieux communicating his deeply felt love of dance, but also acknowledging his own technical limitations. Not to mention the additional off-stage exigencies of the dancer’s life, which include moving to New York for love and, once accepted into Cunningham’s company, dealing with the daily tedium of maestro Merce’s unvarying routine of warm-up exercises.
The sections dealing with Cunningham form the core of Andrieux’s narrative, and open up an amazing insider perspective on one of the giants of modern dance, including what it meant to take direction from an octogenarian who composed his works on a computer and barked instructions from a chair, the humiliation of wearing Cunningham’s trademark unitards, and the music that was always an afterthought for choreographer and performers, but that caused Andrieux’s grandmother, watching and listening in the audience, such physical and emotional distress. In recalling this seminal period of his career, Andrieux makes it clear that he has the utmost respect and admiration for Cunningham as an artist. But he also lets us know—and, indeed, demonstrates for us physically in excerpts from Biped and Suite for 5—that much of Cunningham’s movement was next to impossible to perform, and extremely taxing on the body.
Which makes all the more joyful the conclusion to the evening, when, back in France with new boyfriend Douglas, Andrieux conveys the sense of liberation he felt in dancing works by Trisha Brown and Bel as part of the repertoire of the Lyon Opera Ballet, as well as the chance meeting with Bel on a train that led to their collaboration on this piece, and to the credo that forms its heart: to move without judgment.
Added bonus: following tonight's performance, I get to lead a talkback with the artist.