Lyon Opera Ballet


Choreographed by Philippe Decoufle

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York
April 20, 22, 23 & 24, 2004

A Review by Elizabeth Higgins

When the curtain opened on Tricodex at Brooklyn Academy of Music, I was immediately struck by the image of three carefully defined figures in a line, center stage. The dancers’ masked bodies were cut out of the darkness by lighting that accentuated the stripes that covered them from head to toe. As the two dancers on either side went upside down and the center figure turned right side up, the audience was amused by its discovery of this clever inversion. With more than 25 dancers, 150 costumes, and optical illusions generated by video projections and scenic designs, Tricodex was a visual extravaganza. The music, produced by Sebastien Libot and Hugues de Courson, contributed to the exotic nature of the landscape.

The influence of Alwin Nikolais was apparent in the work of French choreographer and filmmaker Philippe Decoufle. As a former Nikolais dancer (he studied with Nikolais at the Centre National de Dance Contemporaine de Angers, France.) Decoufle seemed influenced by several of Nik’s works, Discs, Girls’ Trio, Mantis, and Noumenon. Combined with a shot of Cirque du Soleil and a 21st century twist, Tricodex was an appropriation of devices, scenic designs, and costumes stretched and melded by Decoufle’s unique aesthetic sensibility.

Inspired by Codex Seraphinianus, “A Visual Encyclopedia of an Imaginary Universe,” by Italian artist and naturalist Luigi Serafini, Tricodex is the final installment in a trilogy that Decoufle premiered in the 1980s. Codex (1986) and Decodex (1995) were the first two installments that Decoufle staged on his own company, Compagnie DCA. Decoufle used Codex Seraphinianus as a visual springboard to develop a mystical world, juxtaposing various bizarre elements as the performers explored their ability to defy gravity.

In one of Decoufle’s most compelling designs, a woman stood atop a metal pedestal with a large rounded, bowl-like base. Strapped into the device by one ankle, she began to rock in each direction with the quiet sustain of a pendulum. She rocked continuously in all directions, going deeper with each motion until she was so precariously balanced it seemed inevitable that she would topple to the floor. As a break in this hypnotic spectacle, her partner would stop her in the greatest depths of her sideways leans, then release her back into the rhythmic rocking, leaving us to ponder the mysteries of physics.

Despite Decoufle’s ability to explore the physical bounds of space, he was not nearly so successful in manipulating other elements such as time and energy. In the larger group dances, unaided by elaborate stage designs, his lack of emphasis on pure movement invention was evident. Often beginning a phrase on the exact downbeat of the musical meter, the movement lacked dynamic range and felt dry in comparison with the visual splendor. This was particularly unfortunate considering the incredible facility and suppleness of the dancers in the Lyon Opera Ballet.

However, he did make use of their sublime instruments in other ways. As the evening progressed Decoufle began stripping away the elements until the dancers’ bodies were revealed as the designs themselves. In one of the final scenes, Decoufle played the gender card as scantily clad men would emerge from a line upstage, mount one of two pedestals and flex their muscles in traditional beefcake style. In sharp contrast to this overt show of masculinity, they would break into giggles and feminine postures before sauntering back upstage. Although the joke went on for just a little too long, he amused us as he challenged the typical confines of gender.

Decoufle had deconstructed the magically woven elements and visual spectacles, leaving us with the pure essence of the human form. Perhaps this was a commentary on human existence in an over stimulated society. I was again reminded of Alwin Nikolais and his penchant to create dances dealing with the conflict between man and his environment. In the final image, a male and female dancer traced the lines of their body parts as a quiet, anticlimactic finale to this one and a half hour work. Anticipating quite the opposite, the audience seemed amazed and confused as they exited the theater.