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Inspired by a traditional men’s folk dance, d’aprés une histoire vraie (for after a true story) is as open and pleasant as it is choreographically complex. Having a four day run at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles, French choreographer Christian Rizzo has selected movements from a folk dance, dissected them, re-arranged them and created a work that brings visual life to the feeling of male camaraderie. In this case it is the eight male dancers performing at first in silence and then to a driving tribal-like score composed and performed onstage by Didier Ambact and Bertrand Groussard, aka King Q4.

Rizzo began his artistic life forming a rock band and later designing a line of clothing. Through his music and costume designs Rizzo found his path to performing in works by such well-known choreographers as Mathilde Monnier, Hervé Robbe, Mark Tompkins, Georges Appaix and others. In January of 2015 Rizzo was appointed Director of the International Choreographic Institute in Montpellier, formerly known as the Centre Chorégraphique National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées.

At REDCAT, d’aprés une histoire vraie was performed on a white floor with a very simple set, designed by Rizzo, that consisted of a wire chair, a book lying next to it, three black balls of different sizes underneath the chair and a potted palm. There was also a pair of white shoes sitting on the very edge of the stage downstage center out of sight for much of the audience. The two musicians and their percussion instruments were atop a large platform located in the upstage right corner.

d’aprés une histoire vraie by Christian Rizzo - Photo: Marc Domage
d’aprés une histoire vraie by Christian Rizzo – Photo: Marc Domage

d’aprés une histoire vraie began with a single figure performing a simple movement phrase with the folk dance elements. He was soon joined by another and then another until all eight men were performing this same phrase, building on it as they went. The phrase was inverted, reversed and combined into duets, trios and more. It was wonderful to watch this simple and familiar folk dance theme split open like an atom and explode into kaleidoscope-like patterns only to revert back to its simplicity. It accomplished all this, however, while retaining its purity, sense of male bonding and folk dance quality.

d’aprés une histoire vraie by Christian Rizzo - Photo: Marc Domage
d’aprés une histoire vraie by Christian Rizzo – Photo: Marc Domage

Just beyond the half way mark of this hour and ten-minute work, the set items listed above were carried off stage one at a time, beginning with the white shoes, until only the musicians remained. These items had not been touched or included in the dance until this occurred. Whether or not one agrees with a set being onstage without a purpose, somehow it worked. The set appeared natural to the folk dance atmosphere. This manner of removing the set also gave a purpose to each man’s exiting the space.

While the musicians performed their truly powerful and driving score, the lighting design slowly replaced the dancers. Light swirled, cloud-like shadows moved across the floor and a soft strobe light effect made a brief appearance. Then again a single male figure entered the space and the music and the light show abruptly stopped as if cut off mid-sentence.  The building up of a different movement phrase, with the same elements, and the music began again.

One memorable section in this second half was when all eight men clasped hands in a complex, cat’s cradle-like pattern. They moved very rapidly across the space, constantly weaving in and out of each other forming more and more twisted patterns. One wrong move and the entire pattern would have fallen apart, but that did not happen. The group of eight became seven as one man was dropped off to lie motionless on the floor. Seven became six and so on until only two men with long hair remained connected. A strange but beautiful duet then transpired where their hair became a living part of the movement, covering their faces for the majority of the lengthy duet.

It speaks volumes about Christian Rizzo’s talent as a choreographer that he can take simple phrases from a folk dance and build them into a work such as d’aprés une histoire vraie that spans over an hour, while managing to keep his audience spellbound. Those eight truly incredible men who performed this work that is simple, complex, intricate and physically demanding were Fabien Almakiewicz, Yaïr Barelli, Massimo Fusco, Miguel Garcia Llorens, Pep Garrigues, Kerem Gelebek, Filipe Lourenço, and Roberto Martinez. The truly vivacious lighting design was created by Caty Olive.

For more information regarding REDCAT and to purchase tickets: https://www.redcat.org/.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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