Performance Review: Christian Rizzo at On the Boards

A White Tank Top Review

Arriving at On the Boards to see Christian Rizzo’s b.c, janvier 1545, fontainebleau., I quietly cursed myself for agreeing to illustrate a dance performance without remembering my editor’s previously published post on the subject titled: “Indescribable Non-Dance.” This is a performance whose mere name causes sundry difficulties in MS Word autocorrect. 

Perusing OtB’s helpful program, I perked up a little. The b.c in the title refers to Benvenuto Cellini, a sculptor I came to admire through Frank Bidart’s life-changing poem “The Third Hour of the Night.”

Cellini made great art his whole life, notwithstanding the fact that he stabbed at least five enemies to death (and only got in big trouble for embezzling too many royal ducats and sodomizing too many apprentices). Various popes, princes, and lovers excused Cellini because he was just too damn good at what he did to be put away.

Read on after the jump.

Judging from my (not exhaustive) YouTube research, b.c, janvier 1545, fontainebleau. is a standard Rizzo-designed set: a wide, white expanse populated with movable props. In an interview with OtB, Rizzo said, “it’s not that I met the dance as a practice, but more as a space, in fact.”

His part of the presentation consists mostly of rearranging tea lights on a table while wearing a child-size bunny mask and complicated pants fringed with large beads. His shuffling movements around the set are in decided contrast to the performance by the lead dancer Julie Guibert (shown at top).

She cuts across the stage in glinting, dagger-like heels. Some of the most remarkable movements include: an elegant series of slow-motion reverse somersaults, smooth displays of backwards skating worthy of an NHL all star, and contortionist crab walks pulled off with ease.

Generally, Rizzo and Guibert do not move at once while sharing the stage (she often freezes in positions of great tension), as if the choreographer can’t stand to be distracted from the brilliant swooping of his charge.

I was absolutely rapt for the first third of the performance, where there was no soundtrack except the click of Rizzo’s beads, the clack of Guibert’s heels and a few coughs from the audience. The white and yellow flickering provided by the candles and Caty Olive’s light installation was the only backdrop until G-Nox’s music came in with a jarring crash of white noise.

As the sounds of spinning alien spaceships, throat gurgling and insect hums coalesced into an industrial beat, the performance became almost narrative. Rizzo and Guibert drew towards each other in the shaky orange glow behind a candlelit tableau and seemed to vibrate closer and closer until she spun away once more.

Rizzo said of b.c, janvier 1545, fontainebleau. “I was really focused on the writing of the dance also. For example, she’s dancing all the time, from beginning to end, without any stop.”

I love the idea that there is a dance happening even in Guibert’s stillness (and I might take this tack next time I’m out and someone asks me why I don’t dance —“I’m dancing right now, can’t you tell?”)

In my persistently ignorant way, I kept expecting some visual representation of Cellini’s The Nymph of Fontainebleau (above) to cap the performance. We gradually understand that all along Rizzo is jettisoning props to give final primacy to Guibert’s movements alone. From the point of her finger to the point of her heel, she inscribes the infinite possibilities of her body in motion.

Rizzo is like the Cellini who overwhelmed me in Bidart’s poem: a man who succeeds, finally, by casting aside everything but his art.


b.c, janvier 1545, fontainebleau.
Showing at On the Boards through October 10

100 W Roy St, Seattle