In her beginnings, at very first sight, Karine Ponties signifies her experiences of loss, of identity refused, of the clash of opposites… and these beginnings recur in each of her choreographies.
And yet, on closer inspection, K.P. compresses herself. Starting with Dame de Pic (Queen of Spades, 1997), she gathers her momentum from excessively compressed forms: roles that are so many quests for representation (as indeed dance seems to be the quest for another representation of the body through movements). More precisely, two types of representation are at work.
The first type springs from the beast – animal, abnormal figures. The Queen of Spades slithers, twists herself as she crawls, becomes reptilian, almost mimetically. The result is an “excrescence,” an “abscess” (to use K.P.’s words), manifest in sideways falls, a headless and limbless back, hands to head, facial turns, breakaway movements, struggle against the body’s constrained space, gripped by the space confining it; and roundness, body and head that pivot, movements that cascade down to the base. At worst, the back is burdened with an avian reptile that cannot hinder the impassive, almost stunned rise. “Indifference” appears to be the final word (and with K.P. there have always been words).
But the abscess has yet to be ruptured by excess. More differences, annoyances and contradictions are required: Negatovas (1999). Before gestures, a stream of words, all in the feminine, all negative: “shattering, possessed, hyenas, sordid, harpies, sluts, drunks, carnivores, losers, unquenched,” words without sentences, and so without links to the subject in action (which the verb would have expressed), existing absent of narration and all reconciliation, all identification.
Words, actions, states. With four men on stage – “They would be backswimmers, tenches, tetraodons, (…), sea-horses, (…), perches, piranhas, (…), catfish, monkfish, sculpins…”- Negatovas unleashes a menagerie. But again, always more, is the solitary struggle that worsens, grotesque, asylumesque, marked by two blocks of irreducible, inflexible wood, around which the dancers’ chaotic races are circumscribed only by lack of space – “you need space,” one interjects – and can only answer to the female voice and its overblown vocalisations of strained gospel and blues. Nevertheless, there has been a call to order: the men stand in pairs, some in pants and others in robes. One stuffs his head in another’s robe, one straddles another, multiplying the attempts at mutual support and learning – all futile.
Only the voice accelerates, becomes rhythm, alters the negation of time (in the narration of actions). There remain oddities in the peregrinations of the unseen, hidden in an “excess of darkness” (as always, to quote K.P.), or at least by comic explosions.
Then, in 2000, Glabelle – Les Taroupes – Keep Smiling were revived (or rather abandoned) in Brucelles. Here the second type of representation reveals itself: the already secretly active representation of the double, the duo, the doubled duo, especially that of the écorché, the glabella (that bare spot between the eyebrows), of the splits (never choreographed) – in short, the representation of the between!
Glabelle thus presents a misshapen body, in which the abscess is ultimately carried to excess on the whole of the body, with its blissful idiocy (that is to say it is crippled), its furious blinking, raised feet, masked face, ostrich-shape, but whose attempts to create order reveal only a Babel of movements – “there remains a Tower of Glabelle” – and whose gyrations force a troubling question: how can one dance disgrace? Two masculine bodies take up the challenge in Les Taroupes (the hairs that grow in the glabella), observing, mimicking, crossing each other; lively, hesitant, crazy motions, often grabbing each other by the head, touching only others – rigid, malleable, cruel. They are a pair who distance themselves from the possibility of being taken for one another. All that seems to be defined is the contortion of swagger, being but an object, a handkerchief, scarf or white flag of contradictions’ truce, set to waltz music, a white veil over a face… Which Brucelles (very delicate spring-loaded tweezers, for picking up tiny objects), a sextet, only exacerbates in order to reject: five men and one woman enter. They jostle and never gather, are never coordinated but in rejection, projections, derisive exchanges, light music, napkins, spoons; the crawling has returned, the harmonies are aimed at no one and not heard; like a broken plate, a body stretches out on a wheeled sideboard; the female body drinks with difficulty. Such is the impossible gathering…
In 2001 K.P. gave us Capture d’un caillot: she recompresses, re-dances, with another woman, Cécile Loyer. If the narration leads to illusive identity, if the body fails to escape the heaviness of the space – the weight of the world – it is a question of playing excerpts, fragments even: already written, of course, and not with discrete words but with syntagms forming a massive uninterrupted sentence playing the role of “programme.” What have I perceived?
Snippets of a composition by Jan Kuijken, sometimes recalling Satie; close-up of the tormented face of a woman (I cannot say dancer: I see a woman’s body once shared by men, by women), almost terrified, a marionette; behind, another female body, curled up, again headless, perhaps even reptilian, trying to stretch out; soon, the two women unfold, blossom: the seated body stands up, stretches itself once again; the two bodies find one another, or at least get closer, a surprise of harmony as a single rhythm captivates them, swelling between the two contortions; two beams of light diverge and travel between them; discharge, disruption, an electrocuted hand, then the whole body prefigures the metamorphoses; change of hair; the light forms a white trapeze for the dance or mime, also electric, of nervous hands; the pained face and still supineness of the one; succour from the other, who lies down by her side; a rectangle is cut from a triangle of shadows; the two women get up, hold hands; change of wardrobe: one in tights, miming an ostrich at the beach, the other finds herself in a dress, face contorted in surprise; in mockery of a beach attendant and a fat woman, they twist out of sync; one woman limps, the other sings a refrain: “Where are all my lovers?”. The women sit.
Yet here they are, having moved to the back of the stage, behind a bubbled mirror-screen, behind a large framed set that gives their faces a final deformation: and the bodies finally escape, rid of all anecdotes, of all expressivity (those which the spectator infers, but can no longer complete since the women have disappeared). And so the representation of the between by fragmentation emerges to bear the enigma: eyes staring into space, teeth of a joyless smile, navel of an unknowable belly, strips of black cloth, disappearance of the two bodies in the paradoxical vagueness of a dismemberment, silence, tick-tock, floating of the red fabric…
The abscess will have been ruptured. What the choreography has captured is indeed the clot. The coagulated blood reveals an unrepresentable body, but the composition of the dance shows the life of the body in its fragmentation.
Art is decidedly not about story and character, but about poetic cacophony.
Karine Ponties is pursuing the enigma of her inner struggle.