French choreographer Xavier le Roy did not think he gave his best performance on April 2 at the ICA. In fact, he candidly told his audience during the question and answer session, “I had some concern, and that’s not good for this piece.” For some reason this made some people chuckle. Why? I don’t know. Le Roy was obviously being earnest--as he delivered his response he clasped his microphone tightly and shook his full head of mushed gray hair like a perplexed scientist whose experiment has unexpectedly exploded. But then again people were softly laughing all night as Le Roy presented “Self-Unfinished,” and why they giggled during the show I can understand: laughing helped fill the void Le Roy created.
Though Le Roy, who is currently an artist-in-residence at MIT as part of the program in Arts, Culture, and Technology (ACT), himself criticized that his performance “was not fluid,” it was strangely and peacefully meditative. As he morphed from a buzzing and whirling being, to a headless androgynous creature, to a form that one woman in the audience said looked like a chicken, and then back to a man, he forced his audience to contemplate stillness and the forms the human body can take.
Le Roy’s “Self-Unfinished” was almost soundless. Throughout the night, the smallest sounds from the audience—coughs, stomach rumbles, that jerk behind you trying to open gum or candy—were magnified across the theater. The all-white stage was bare except for a small square table with black legs, a black plastic desk chair, and a large boom box that Le Roy would press from time to time, but from which no music would come until his final exit.
The piece opened with Le Roy seated at the table. After the audience was situated he began a sequence of jerky robot-like movements. Each part of his body corresponded to a buzz sound as it moved: a guttural cough in the back of his throat for stepping, a chainsaw-like vibration for the turning of his head. Following a long period without movement (this show is not meant for short-attention spans), Le Roy moved into a series where he walked backwards, the rubber soles of his grubby canvas sneakers squeaking across the stage, his unblinking eyes staring straight forward.
Le Roy’s intense gaze, however, is hidden for most of the second half of his performance. By pulling a long stretchy shirt over his face and going into a backward bend, he made himself into a four-legged, headless creature that deliberately danced back and forth across the stage. His next transformation involved him removing all his clothes and standing on his shoulders with his back to the audience and his legs curled towards his head so that once again his face was hidden. He was in this position for an uncomfortably long time, and when he moved his arms or legs to form different shapes you could indeed see the resemblance to a plucked chicken. There was, however, more awe than humor in the comparison.
When Le Roy finally rose and slowly began to put on his clothes, his shoulders were raw and red.
On April 24, Le Roy will present a new work he has been developing with researchers and students at MIT. Le Roy described the future performance, “more floor pieces,” as a contemplation of landscape and a project that has been in the back of his mind since he was an artist in residence at the Podewil Center for Contemporary Arts, Berlin. With “Self-Unfinished” as evidence of Le Roy’s artistic vision, I am fully intrigued by the idea of his passion being coupled with scientific insight into a new, and likely very original, performance.
"Self-Unfinished" was performed at the ICA Boston and “more floor pieces” will debut at MIT's Media Lab Complex.
All images are courtesy of the artist.
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