We need to talk —
to talk about Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s dances;
to talk about the sensuality that imbues and saturates their programs;
to talk about the eroticism, desire, and love of their dances — everything that lies beyond the narrow boundaries of gender identities and sexual orientations.
I. Erotic and pornographic
“The presence (the dynamics) of this blind field is, I believe, what distinguishes the erotic photograph from the pornographic photograph. Pornography ordinarily represents the sexual organs, making them into a motionless object (a fetish), flattered like an idol that does not leave its niche; […] at most it amuses me (and even then, boredom follows quickly). The erotic photograph, on the contrary (and this is its very condition), does not make the sexual organs into a central object; it may very well not show them at all; it takes the spectator outside its frame; […] the pornographic body shows itself, it does not give itself, there is no generosity in it..”Roland Barthes, Camera lucida: Reflections on photography (trans. by Richard Howard), pp. 57-9
For the French philosopher Roland Barthes, the dividing line between the erotic and pornographic photograph consists in the presence of a ‘blind field’ in the former: one that draws the gaze and the imagination of the spectator beyond the frame, beyond the straightforward and static concreteness of the pornographic shot.
The erotic art does not at all focus on the sexualisation of the body or the sex itself , nor does it even provide too clear signs thereof — it forms a background and a space beyond the frame that can be guessed or imagined, but not seen with the naked eye. Instead, the erotic art focuses on the ambiguous signs of sensuality: the gaze, the gestures, the poses, the hidden dynamics of interaction. It is not interested in the final product of the passion, which is placed at the outermost edge of our peripheral vision — instead, it emphasises the complex process of its genesis and development.
So does Gabriella Papadakis’ and Guillaume Cizeron’s art: vibrant and “generous”, infinitely removed from the undisguised unidimensionality and openness of the pornographic. In their dances, the space beyond the frame is as important as is the frame itself: it is within this “blind field” of our peripheral vision that they disclose their most intimate thoughts and confess their innermost feelings.
II. Sensuality and senses
“Ma dimmi: al tempo d’i dolci sospiri,
a che e come concedette amore
che conosceste i dubbiosi disiri?”
“but tell me, in that season of sweet sighs,
how and by what signs did Love
acquaint you with your hesitant desires?”(trans. by Robert and Jean Hollander)
Sensuality is deeply rooted in the senses, through which we acquire all information and greedily examine our “object” of desire. In Dante’s Canto V from the Inferno, we find ourselves in the midst of la bufera infernal (“the hellish squall”) that consists of famous peccator carnali (the carnal sinners), both real and imaginary. Against this backdrop, Francesca da Rimini tells her famous story of passion and seduction. Left alone in the chamber one day, Francesca and Paolo (the younger brother of her husband) read the well-known story of Lancelot and Guinevere. During the reading, their eyes would often meet, and faces turn pale. When they finally reach the kiss scene between the two protagonists, Paolo — “all trembling” — kissed Francesca on her mouth.
In the love tragedy narrated by Francesca, the anatomy of desire encompasses all the main sources of sensuality: sound (the reading itself, which must have been aloud, not the silent reading we are used to today); sight (the intersection of the eyes); and finally taste, smell, and touch that are added the melting pot of passion in the climactic kiss scene. Last but not least, imagination becomes that fertile soil that allows the passion grow and develop in the minds of our two protagonists, and that allows them to become successful readers not just of the book, but of each other’s minds and feelings, too.
To notice the sensuality of Gabriella’s and Guillaume’s programs, one needs to become an equally successful reader of signs, feelings, and emotions — otherwise the books they write with their skates would stay unread and silent.
“soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.
Per più fïate li occhi ci sospinse
quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso …”
We were alone, without the least misgiving.
More than once that reading made our eyes meet
and drained the color from our faces.
Lengthy and intense visual contact between the partners is one of the most important aspects of their dances. This potent exchange of gazes becomes evident even before the dance itself: when they just step on the ice, when their names are being announced;
when they are about to begin the dance;
and then throughout the dance itself, up to the final bows.
This intense staring and powerful intersection of gazes is one of the strongest and most intimate moments not only of Gabi and Guillaume’s dances, but in our lives more generally. We tend to avoid lengthy eye contacts with strangers precisely for this very reason — it is too intimate, it creates a strong bond with another person, and it is through our eyes and gazes that love and passion find their way into our hearts and souls, at least that is what art has always wanted us to believe.
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso
this man, who never shall be parted from me
Touching another person’s bare skin with one’s arms — their arms, neck, ears, face, chest, and so on — is the next step in the anatomy of desire, one that creates an even stronger bond between the partners. Dance is the art that is particularly obsessed with human bodies and tactile sensations, one in which touch is ever-present. In Gabi and Guillaume’s case, however, touch is particularly pronounced and is often used in an openly sensual way.
The slow-motion replays below reveal all the tenderness and sensuality of touch: when touching one’s head, hair, or neck;
chest or shoulders;
chest or forearms.
This sensuality of touch becomes particularly impressive in this pair’s iconic lift in which the two partners seem to blend into one. This can only lead in one direction.
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
this man, who never shall be parted from me,
all trembling, kissed me on my mouth.
The kiss on the mouth becomes the climactic point of Paolo and Francesca’s love tragedy. It occurs in two dimensions simultaneously: in the novel of Lancelot that is being read by the two protagonists of Dante’s Canto — and in the fictional reality of the canto itself, between Paolo and Francesca. The kiss is not just the extreme intensification of touch, it adds new sources of information into the melting pot of desire: taste and smell. It thus becomes the final point of desire whose boundaries are rarely trespassed by the erotic art — and the beginning of its “blind field”.
The kiss motif was introduced in Papadakis-Cizeron’s programs early on, already in the 2014-15 Mozart medley inspired by Angelin Preljocaj’s Le parc (1994): more specifically, in one of the lifts that reproduced the famous kiss scene from the ballet.
Even though the kiss has never made its return in later dances, at least not in this form, the sense of intimate closeness that this lift generates has been present in their dances ever since.
VI. Petite mort
Galeotto fu ‘l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.
A Galeotto was the book and he that wrote it.
That day we read in it no further.
That closeness would often end the love stories of their dances. Or almost end. What remains is the “blind field” of erotic art, a few pages perhaps, with images that require no further comment: “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Text and idea: Mikhail Lopatin
English translation: Mikhail Lopatin
P.S. I wholeheartedly thank the co-author of this article @OdduduaS for moral support and, most importantly, for allowing me to use her astonishing collection of gifs. Without these pregnant illustrations, the love story of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s dances would be left incomplete and stay largely silent. Here, as in the anatomy of passion and desire itself, words and reading can only discreetly complement and comment on the potency of gaze.