A Dancer Pays a Gravity-Defying Tribute to Claude Debussy

Most dancers have an intu­itive under­stand­ing of physics.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Yoann Bour­geois push­es this sci­ence beyond the stan­dard lifts, leaps, and pirou­ettes, draw­ing on his train­ing at the Cen­tre Nation­al Des Arts du Cirque for a piece mark­ing the cen­te­nary of com­pos­er Claude Debussy’s death, above.

Giv­en the occa­sion, the choice of Clair de Lune, Debussy’s best loved piano work, feels prac­ti­cal­ly de rigueur, but the tram­po­line comes as a bit of a shock.

We may not be able to see it, but it plays such an essen­tial role, it’s tempt­ing to call this solo a pas de deux. At the very least, the tram­po­line is an essen­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor, along with pianist Alexan­dre Tha­rau and film­mak­er Raphaël Wertheimer.

Bour­geois’ expres­sive­ness as a per­former has earned him com­par­isons to Char­lie Chap­lin and Buster Keaton. His chore­og­ra­phy shows that he also shares their work eth­ic, atten­tion to detail, and love of jaw­drop­ping visu­al stunts.

Don’t expect any ran­dom boing­ing around on this tramp’.

For four and a half min­utes, Bour­geois’ every­man strug­gles to get to the top of a stark white stair­case. Every time he falls off, the tram­po­line launch­es him back onto one of the steps — high­er, low­er, the very one he fell off of…

Inter­pret this strug­gle how you will.

Psy­che, a dig­i­tal mag­a­zine that “illu­mi­nates the human con­di­tion through psy­chol­o­gy, philo­soph­i­cal under­stand­ing and the arts” found it to be “an abstract­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of a child­like expe­ri­ence of time.” One view­er won­dered if the num­ber of steps — twelve — was sig­nif­i­cant.

It’s no stretch to con­ceive of it as a com­ment on the nature of life — a con­stant cycle of falling down and bounc­ing back.

It’s love­ly to behold because Bour­geois makes it look so easy.

In an inter­view with NR, he spoke of how his cir­cus stud­ies led to the real­iza­tion that “the rela­tion­ship between phys­i­cal forces” is what he’s most inter­est­ed in explor­ing. The stairs and tram­po­line, like all of his sets (or devices, as he prefers to call them), are there to “ampli­fy spe­cif­ic phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non”:

In sci­ence, we’d call them mod­els – they’re sim­pli­fi­ca­tions of our world that enable me to ampli­fy one par­tic­u­lar force at a time. Togeth­er, this ensem­ble of devices, this con­stel­la­tion of con­struct­ed devices, ten­ta­tive­ly approach­es the point of sus­pen­sion. And so, this makes up a body of research; it’s a life’s research that doesn’t have an end in itself. 

The rela­tion­ship with phys­i­cal forces has an elo­quent capac­i­ty that can be very big; it has the kind of expres­sion that is uni­ver­sal.

Watch more of Youann Bour­geois’ physics-based chore­og­ra­phy on his YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Hear Debussy Play Debussy: A Vin­tage Record­ing from 1913

Quar­an­tined Dancer Cre­ates Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Final Dirty Danc­ing Scene with a Lamp as a Dance Part­ner

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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