Walking through a doorway
I was once told that walking through
A doorway could cause someone to forget
Even the most precious memories they had
The first words that the audience will hear in Gabriella Papadakis – Guillaume Cizeron’s new free dance evoke the so-called «doorway effect»: a well-known cognitive mechanism that makes one forget smaller tasks when passing through a doorway. Surely everyone is familiar with it: forgetting why you opened that fridge, or why you entered this room and what on earth did you want to take from that table. Forest Blakk’s wonderfully evocative lyrics extrapolate the workings of this mechanism much further and deeper though, making it the leitmotif of another story of love and oblivion, of visual, sonic, and tactile memories («what it felt like to rest your head on a friend’s shoulder») irrecoverably lost, despite the lyric I’s best efforts to regain them. «The doorway» through which the main protagonists pass acquires a greater status and prominence, becoming that borderline between past and future, between memory and forgetfulness, that is our present, our here and now.
And yet in Papadakis-Cizeron’s embodiment of all these associations, in their sensual corporeal translation of Forest Blakk’s lyrics and Olafur Arnalds’s music into movement, one is prompted to ruminate over still bigger questions: where are the (border)lines between sport and art, music and text, memory and forgetfulness? Are these real, or only imposed superficially in order to facilitate categorizing and sorting out of what in its essence is indivisible, borderless, ever-changing, fluid? This free dance is one of such memorable doorways, walking through which challenges us to ask these questions and to search for answers.
Music and text
Papadakis: We didn’t want only to show something beautiful. We really worked on each word and its meaning. We tried to find a specific movement to express each word of the lyrics.
Cizeron: Our idea was to stick to the interpretation of each word through specific body movements. The sonority and the rhythm of these words inspired a certain way to move. This gave us an additional opportunity to create some contemporary movements – instead of dancing something that would just be meant to be beautiful.
One of the most striking features of this program is the use of a spoken word as music—that is, the use of its rhythm, intonation (can we call it «melody»?), and sonority in the way others would use musical rhythm, melody, and sonority as a foundation for their choreography. A verbal text therefore becomes musical, or better musicalized, in order to serve the purposes normally reserved for a musical accompaniment. But there is more, of course, because there is also its meaning, there are poetic images and motifs, there are all those memories of which the text speaks and which find their way in how the dancers move, in what their choreography conveys—non-verbally.
Gabriella and Guillaume confessed that this approach had partly been inspired by a few contemporary ballet works that they saw on stage. While it is impossible to guess what particular work could have inspired them and their choreographers, it is still worth noting that Forest Blakk’s lyrics were indeed used in a number of recent productions, such as this solo performed by Michelle Lim
or this dynamic group dance that won the first prize in the recent «World of dance» competition in Paris.
So, this idea is not without its precedents. What unites all these productions is their way of dealing with words, of caring about the meanings of these words, their sonority and rhythm. The way words provide crucial stimuli to which bodies immediately respond. What is dissimilar in Papadakis-Cizerons’s case though is the surface (slippery ice instead of a firmer dance floor) and the generic restrictions that are imposed on ice dancers—a long list of requirements into which their dance must be made ‘fit’, which they needed to incorporate into their dance in the most seamless manner, so as to make these required elements (lifts, twizzles, step sequences, and so on) inextricable parts of the entire concept.
At any rate, to enjoy this dance requires much more than just looking at the beauty of it as a dance—something «just meant to be beautiful», to quote Guillaume’s words—no, it requires the viewer’s full attention to the text and its multiple reflections in how the two bodies move. It requires, in other words, a full appreciation of the «musicalized» word and «verbalized» dance, the appreciation of their intricate dialogue and counterpoint.
Memory and oblivion are two central motifs of this text. At that very moment when the word «memories» appears in the lyrics, the two dancers react by touching their heads.
From that moment onwards, the text focuses on a long series of memories—related to sight, hearing, touch or texture—that the lyric persona loses or is about to lose: «memories of love [note the dancers’ embrace] and of loss [Gabriella slipping out of Guillaume’s hands]»;
«or what it felt like to rest your head on a friend’s shoulder» [this gesture reproduces the textual idea literally and does not require any further comments];
«that still carries with it the creases from where you last placed your heart» [touching each other’s chests/hearts]»;
everything that defines the identity of an individual, all memories—«gone within a single step».
The list of memories related to tactile sensations continues in the next fragment with «I can remember what it felt like to hold you» [a brief lift in the dance];
only to metamorphose into visual yet again in «I can remember what it was like to stare blindly into your eyes for what felt like an eternity»—at the moment where the two dancers’ gazes meet and the distance between their eyes becomes minimal.
Apart from the «musicalized» word—the word used as music—there is some real music in this program, too: two fragments taken from Olafur Arnalds’s compositions. His music brings some sense of clarity, particularly as far as the rhythmic foundation of this dance is concerned. It becomes periodic, stable, and therefore more predictable. Yet the metrical periodicity and steady pace of this music uncover another important topic directly related to the ideas of memory and oblivion explored throughout the dance: time and its flow. Time that makes our memories slip from our hands, that presses us to forget.
The anxiety that the passing of time arouses can be sensed at the very beginning, when a quiet but obsessive repetition of one low pitch cannot but provoke associations with the deep sound of a bell ringing from some distance.
The obsessive «clock ticking» intensifies later in the program and culminate when the two dancers start their twizzles, with their hands and legs going around like minute hands of a clock—anxiously measuring the passing of time and the progress of our forgetting.
Stability and clarity that the music brings are therefore illusory: far from providing a firmer ground, the music is, quite on the contrary, a quicksand, stepping on which we drown helplessly and forget our most precious memories, forget ourselves, as the time passes by.
The second half of this dance is a desperate attempt to remember, to regain lost memories, lost feelings that had once been experienced by our protagonists: when they had not yet forgotten them, when they had not yet passed throughout the doorway:
I remember now
This was where I first found you
And beyond those closed doors
I will find you again
I will find you again
I will find you again
I will find you again
I will find you again
This attempt, too, finds its echo in the dance: in how the dancers cross their gazes, how they finally turn their bodies towards each other, in the rising intensity of their interaction. Its powerful climactic point is perhaps the only moment in the entire dance where the clocks stop ticking, where the time ceases its passage, and when we finally remember: to cite Julio Cortazar’s nostalgic description of «lost gestures», when we «arrive at what we were before we were this thing that, who knows, we are».
The end of this program is yet again not straightforward, creating the sense of doubleness and insecurity instead: Gabriella and Guillaume turn their backs to each other and then, when the final «I will find you again» brings some illusion of hope, Guillaume slips out of Gabriella’s hands. Remember that moment at the beginning, on «memories of loss», when she did the same? This closes the circle.
Will he find her again? Will he remember his lost love? Or will time wash out his last memory of her, of her face and her embrace, as it washes out our footprints in the sand?
What is clear is that we will never forget this dance, this memory of other memories. We will never forget this: how we stepped beyond the restricted borders between sport and art, between music and text, as well as between memory and forgetfulness. We will never forget what we gained in these four minutes (was it four minutes?), when we lost the sense of time. We will never forget—even when we pass through a doorway.