To follow an amazing text by Manuela Morgaine on Philippe Grandrieux’s latest performance, MEUTRIÈRE. I was lucky enough to see this same performance at Le Phare in Le Havre earlier this year. A truly transformational experience, as you will understand from the text below. With thanks to Manuela for allowing me to reproduce this here. For the original French, see here.
A Philippe Grandrieux performance.
“The thing is
But above all,
the thing is
You have missed something. Before it’s even started. You know, you feel that you have missed something. You are missing something. That’s what you feel. From the outset. In the antechamber of MEURTRIÈRE. It’s what came before. You feel that something has begun without you. And yet you’re not late. You wait. You wait for it to start. Yet you feel that it’s all started without you, that it has already been born, that it’s been moving through the eternal night, well before the première in New York the year before, well before. You can sense that it’s in train, but it’s inexpressible in words, you can say nothing about this sensation. Everyone around you is talking and yet you can tell from their faces, you can feel that you’re not the only one to feel it, that something is happening on these waiting faces. This “impatience”, this burning impatience feels so much like desire, you could already feel it in the train, you saw it in the looks of those who, like you, were making the trip from Paris to le Havre. And there, in le Phare in le Havre, just before entering into the absolute blackness of the stage, you understand that all of those who are there all know that they want the same thing, that they are not going to the theatre or to the cinema, but that they have been driven there by the imperious desire to live something that has no name, a vision with no name, a turbulence, a purgatory. Bit by bit you understand that this intense, sacred space that you are waiting for is what you cannot experience, generally, when you enter into the theatre or the cinema, or a gallery for that matter, that everything here is somehow changed, intensified by the protocol required for entry.
You are told to go in one by one in the dark, you are told to enter one by one, holding hands. Finally the possibility of reaching the other, taking someone else’s hand, touching the hand of a stranger in the dark. Everything here is turned on its head from the start, the security signs and exit lights are hidden, you must turn off anything which might, apart from yourself, light up (mobile phones, cameras…). Everything but yourself must be switched off. You enter into the dark like them, Pieter Bruegel’s blind, and in an instant you plunge in, you lose your sight and lose sight of life with its dross and sheen of civility. You advance through the dark, groping, letting yourself be guided by the bodies of those in front of you who, in turn, are guided by a pathfinder. You let go and enter into the circle.
Once there, to lose yourself, like the souls in Dante’s Purgatory, you go where you can go, where you can walk, along the edge of the large stage. Yet you’re not obliged to stick by the wall, to go there. No violence is done to you here. Here it can only be this way. It is you who wanted it to be like this, who wants it to be like this, so you let it be, you put your trust in this “Thing” which is happening to you, that you wanted and felt in advance. I felt it, I knew it, I came for it, to go there, to go straight to “the Thing” so that I could finally go where I no longer know where I am, in the shadows of the world, in the interstices of the unknowable. I came here with all of you to lose myself, without a hint of blind beatitude, I came here to cast myself into the abyss, with no other intention, into limbo. Such liminal spaces characterise the brilliance of Philippe Grandrieux’s work, from his films Sombre, Un Lac, La Vie Nouvelle and, most recently, White Epilepsy. All of these constitute visions of pure and simultaneous attraction and repulsion, of the darkest night of images and bodies into which the poet, the artist, plunges us as if into a developing bath to reveal to us the convulsive forms of his interior world which is also ours, if we are willing to stare it in the face.
The technical rider indicates that “a black box is required, no light or sounds from the outside must penetrate into the space set aside for the performance. The minimum dimensions of the space must be 10mx10m with black walls at least 4m high and the floor covered with a black dance mat. The spectators enter into the performance space accompanied by a guide who helps them to find a spot by the wall in the half light, standing or sitting on the ground. A single LED panel lights the centre of the space. The dancers are already present, the performance has started in the silence. Music is played during the performance.”
We had read this before and thus knew it all in advance. There is here then no trap. No trickery. The conceit is simple, sober, entirely determined in advance, as is our presence, our postures, sitting or standing. Nobody stays standing. It is impossible to stay standing in a space as intimate as this, because four naked female bodies are already there before us, lying on the ground, breathing, face down on the earth. It would seem somehow obscene to remain standing when the spectacle of life itself is at your feet. So you wish to get down off your feet, to eclipse yourself, like the light, you seek the half-light of yourself, to diminish your own shadow. You want to make yourself disappear, all but your eyes. If only you could bury yourself under the dance mat, or behind the black curtain you are leaning against. It’s not that you’re ashamed or want to hide yourself, it’s that you want to abstract yourself. Your winter garments are heavy, if only you also could lie down naked in the darkness, you know no one would fall for it. You feel as though you have been stripped naked as soon as you enter into this radiographic space which unavoidably imposes itself on you. And so you fade into the darkness, you disappear from yourself as much as you can and, crouching like a beast, you watch, crouching at the same time like the hunter gone to ground, your eyes wide open to see through the loophole of your innermost intimacy these naked female forms that seem to emerge from the earth, or into life, or to come back from the dead. When you hit the ground you left Peter Bruegel’s march of the blind but still you are traversed by painting. You see there in front of you “The Last Judgement” by Luca Signorelli, right here right now, you see “The Resurrection of the Body”.
These naked female forms which, for now, in the silence, breathe more or less heavily, come to life all around the stage in almost total darkness, close to you, to us. These naked female forms are no longer naked women, just naked female forms that breathe hard, groan and pull themselves out of the ground, slowly and convulsively all at the same time, over a long period. You think that this resurrection, this scene of naked female forms pulling themselves out of the ground convulsively lasts half an hour. Even if you quickly lost all sense of time, for anyone reading what you write and who hasn’t seen this, you say that it must have lasted about thirty minutes. You soon understand that the choreography, this articulation of forms, is improvised, yet that there is a protocol here, codes and movements that are deliberate and prescribed, pulsations, rhythms, but that time belongs only to the dance. That there is no single master directing the movements. But neither are there simply dancers doing as they want guided only by inspiration. Here the body is the sole sorcerer’s apprentice of its own dance and soon of its trance.
Like these four naked female forms which gradually rise up under the savage sway of the purest possible impulse, you too are under the sway of your own gaze. Not hypnotised, you are fully conscious, you belong to yourself more than ever, but simply and finally delivered unto yourself, it is you that you see in front of you, your primordial being articulating its first movements, like a fawn freshly fallen from the womb faltering on its part-formed limbs.
A cave dance, a parietal body language. Before these tectonic women you are dumbstruck.
You see convulsions, whirlwinds of hair, flashes of teeth, contortions, arcs, a tornado, skin, instability, combats, nothing, seismic quakes, canvases of the Grand Masters, reflections, gushes, waves, percussions, eruptions, sometimes all at once, orgasm and ocean.
You hear pure breath then sighs, bellows, cries, a cough, a wail, hands hitting a body, like a rhythm that drives it, reanimates it, and then friction, flows, and, under it all, a swell.
“Hands grasp nothing, arms do not embrace. They are simply appendices, sometimes cumbersome, whose usage has been lost, bits of bodies removed from all social or cultural constituencies, beyond all knowledge. What ‘Meurtrière’ requires is a body that does not know, entirely subjugated to the rhythm that drives it. It is this constant rhythm from which emerges every act. A fierce will that derives only from instinct. […] The world of “Meurtrière” gradually starts to infiltrate us, to occupy us.”
This is what you read in the notes that Philippe Grandrieux communicated day after day to four dancers during the rehearsals for MEURTRIÈRE that led, over five days, to this work’s creation.
In silence the world of MEURTRIÈRE has infiltrated you. More than an hour has gone by and it is as though you are in front of a sea that you could watch for hours and hours, mesmerised by the infinite variation of its waves. A sensual consecration, you are sitting on the ground, your back to the wall in the dark and in silence watching these four naked female forms reveal before your eyes a whole range of movements never seen before. These forms are naked every which way you look at them, the body’s forms shown as you’ve never seen them, shaded, in a half-grey-light, convex and concave, part erased or recomposed by the oblique irradiation of a single loophole of light. In the middle of the black carpet, the LED panel opens a luminous window, it can’t be called a light. It’s a slit, that allows us to understand the performance’s title, where this title finds its full meaning, MEURTRIÈRE, an empty slightly phosphorescent rectangle, a space in which to radiate, to expose oneself, to reveal oneself as though a photographic plate, a space of exposure for four dancers on whom each ray of light that they capture as they pass through centre stage develops, depending on the angle of incidence, a morphology, the semblance of a face, a hint of hair, the shadow of a muscle, a fragment of a sculpted body, never a whole woman. Nothing but incomplete contours, fragments of a statue.
The whole time you see though that these naked forms are women. Yet there is never anything obscene in this. This astounds you still as you hear groans, a yapping that belongs to solitude as much as it does to the pack. Before this vision of intertwinings, tanglings of breasts, of thighs, of buttocks, of genitals. Even when they spread their legs right in front of you, whether near or far, you find yourself faced with an abstract gaping, a line of flight. An “extenuating” beauty. An absence of sexual provocation when the whole scene is furiously voluptuous, savage, moans in the night. This is something you have never seen. This way of moving, moaning, contorting oneself, touching oneself, convulsing with no hysteria, this manner of being present, all four magnificently whole and naked, open to gesture, to backwash, in silence and near darkness. Nor have you see this manner of stopping. Time suspended in which nothing happens. Nothing at all. Nothing but you and them, breathing.
This is now a unique time, unique for you, in which one of them, one of those naked female forms comes to wash up against you, on all fours, right up against you, its breath like a muzzle placed in your lap, breasts hanging like those of the Capitoline Wolf, against you, motionless, when this form comes close to you, rests there to inhale, breathe, with no odour after this convulsive and swelling flood, it must have been going on for two hours, you’re breathless with tears in your eyes, you’re submerged under a new emotion. Who knows why. This form, this “Thing” built like a woman, does not move, does not caress you. It doesn’t attract you. It doesn’t provoke you. It doesn’t seek you out. Doesn’t attack you. It abandons you. Abandoned to itself it abandons you. It stays there for at least a quarter of an hour against you without the slightest movement. You are there with it “without intention”. Finally “without intention”. Could you have imagined that before? That it might be possible to get to this point, to be purely and simply “without intention” and that this should be so transformational? You lack nothing. You have been made to act without manipulation. The other has enacted you by doing nothing, by doing nothing to you and without you doing anything. You desire to do nothing other than what you are doing here, what you are living here, except perhaps to prolong the duration of this body to body relation without intention. We have not moved one iota, one nor the other, our hair, our breath are combined. Your heart is beating out of your chest. Inside you on the Richter scale it’s the big bang, the initial instant.
And in this the most moving moment comes as you touch the initial instant of vision.
On the impulse of one of them the movement starts up again. And they all then rise up, recreate the vertical. Before your eyes the creatures emerge from the clay on the wheel of Pygmalion the potter. Not yet dry these female forms make and unmake themselves in their nudity, like four cardinal points, beautiful, authentic and raw with unrecognisable faces. They have lasted in this intensity, whether moving or immobile, they have lasted more than two hours in this orchestrated improvisation of their agile and free instincts. And it is at this point that the music comes to rend space into pieces. For you and all of those around you the resurrection of sound after so much silence accompanied only by the sound of bodies carries a phenomenal force. You hear the guitar chords in your head, you who have been plunged into silence for so long, you hear the bass notes of the guitar in your very body. Your blood pumps. The music is broadcast loud, precisely, womb-like, prodigious, insistent, this electric music reanimates everything, lights us up, excites us, liberates space and dance in a prodigious movement. The horizon, dark to its core, suddenly lights up.
And yet the intensity of the loophole of light in the centre does not change. It is only your perception that suddenly transforms everything. These slow minutes of music, to finish in beauty, in intensity, in saturated basslines that vibrate the ground, along the walls, that propagate in flashes, in radiance, in grace.
And then you do not know how it ends, if one were to ask you, you could not say how it ended. It is without an end, without applause, without anything that might resemble what takes place in the Society of the spectacle. You have passed over to the other side of the mirror, you have broached the walls of the world of appearance, the wall of sound. Are you in the fourth dimension? That’s what it feels like, like 3D or 4D, everything picked out in extreme relief, intense forms coming to you, penetrating you, landing on your retina. You leave and the light burns you. There has been no video projection, no special effects, no trickery, no holograms. Nothing but life in action in a half-light bisected by a loophole. Nothing but the vision of an eye stripped bare. What is on stage stops, but what is in you does not stop, this form, this fullness, this eruption of naked female forms, this bodily contact in the confines of the visible world. You can hardly believe it: this performance, two and a half hours, obscure and unnameable, now and forever, MEURTRIÈRE touches you with its look.
Film maker and writer.
Translated by Greg Hainge.
MEURTRIÈRE by Philippe Grandrieux premièred in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 18th October 2013 as part of the Festival Walls and Bridges exhibition curated by the Villa Gillet and as part of the Pharenheit Festival in Le Phare, National Centre for Choreography in Le Havre Upper Normandy on the 29th January 2014.
With Emilia Giudicelli, Vilma Pitrinaite, Hélène Rocheteau, Francesca Ziviani.
An Epileptic production with the support of Le Phare, CCN du Havre Haute-Normandie.
Music by Ferdinand Grandrieux.
 Translator’s note: “Meurtrière” is both an adjective meaning “murderous”, as well as a noun designating both a “murderess” and a “loophole” – in its architectural sense of a slit in a wall through which arrows can be shot.