“Möbius” at the Théâtre de Chaillot: the art of defying the laws of gravity

Who said man can’t fly? On the stage of the Théâtre national de Chaillot in Paris, the members of Compagnie XY seem determined to challenge some of our most fundamental certainties. This collective has been working on the rhythms and forms of acrobatic language for fifteen years. Without denying their precious circus technique, its members question its place in an artistic gesture, the limits of aerobatics, and thereby the links between these porous disciplines that are dance and circus.

There are nineteen of them standing on this bare stage, with a sobriety that echoes their refined looks – sober silhouettes dressed in black or beige. Nineteen is a lot: enough for the individual to blend into the collective, to be just an atom in the mass, to step aside in the service of the group. Neither solo, nor pas de deux: we will rather think of these flights of birds, whose strength comes from perfect coordination within an ensemble. No wonder it’s a collective creation and not a vertical commission from a director or choreographer to be performed – even if for the occasion, the Company worked in collaboration with the choreographer Rachid Ouramdane. At the heart of the approach, raw material: the know-how of the group, this “whole” absorbing the parts.

Flocks of birds and human pyramids

A dancer who dreams of being a bird: the image is not new, but rarely has it made so much sense. The artists drew their inspiration from starlings, these passerine species that move in groups, offering delicate choreographies of hundreds of pairs of wings in flight. Here too, the bodies hover, levitate, land, cushioned by the arms of their peers who pick them up before propelling them back into the air. A little dazed, the spectator will gladly join these suspended moments, where the laws of gravity seem to have no more effect.

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“Möbius” cultivates the art of ruptures: after the horizontality of flight, place in pure verticality, well known to circus artists – a person on the shoulders of another, herself standing on a third body… and this until to the fourth. Let us insist on this point: they are indeed pyramids of four perfectly superimposed bodies, of a dizzying height, which evolve in different places on the board. Around, the rest of the members act as a buffer, placed in strategic positions (probably in the event of a fall, but let’s not think about it) to receive the dancers in aerobatic feats which again will leave the spectator slightly panting.

Gliding flights, pyramids, coordinated jumps, multiple acrobatics… The technique of the collective is impressive, but its greatest strength undoubtedly lies in its work on movement, even if this is a priori less perceptible. It is both thought of as a rupture (emergences, sudden falls, sudden departures) and as a continuum, an inscription in a long time: “A Möbius strip is a strip of paper twisted at one end before being glued to the other to form a single-sided strip”, we learn from the accompanying text. It is in this continuity that the interactions between the bodies of the dancers are inscribed, constantly connected within a whole that goes beyond them.

body apart

We immediately become attached to these bodies – which we manage to locate and isolate despite their lack of distinctive signs. They are of various sizes, shapes and morphologies, far from the canons of classical dance. All seem to have an extremely precise function, a raison d’être in space and time. Above all, they are deeply inseparable from each other, and it is this interconnection that moves the viewer. The members of Compagnie XY operate in absolute confidence, which no doubt is typical of many acrobatic troupes, but which is particularly noticeable here. The bodies bounce, roll on the ground, overlap, propel each other, stop, and make us vibrate with them.

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Perhaps they are made of something other than flesh and bone as they seem to obey other gravitational laws, fear neither height nor landing, being driven by a unique inner movement. They can climb to the top of a pyramid by making themselves lighter than air, and the next second carrying the equivalent of their weight at arm’s length. They play with everything – embodying a supreme freedom, which we envy them as much as it contaminates us.

“Möbius” is further proof that it only takes sixty minutes to put on a great show. It is an ode to movement, to reversal, to the displacement of limits. Above all, it’s a great lesson in “doing things together”, and the opportunity to affirm an aesthetic gesture that combines earth and air, standing and lying down, abscissa and order.

“Möbius”, Compagnie XY in collaboration with Rachid Ouramdane. Until September 18 at Chaillot National Theater in Paris.

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“Möbius” at the Théâtre de Chaillot: the art of defying the laws of gravity

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