NEW YORK CITY: Full Disclosure #1: I served drinks in between Auto and Batterie, the two parts of an entertaining evening of dance by French choreographer David Wampach. How could I refuse? In between sets, he appeared in drag, wearing spike heels, a low-backed red dress and a long blonde wig. He was gorgeous. Playing a nightclub girl, Wampach carried around his neck a basket of sparkling wine and cranberry juice. He looked out into the audience, asking for volunteers. I said yes without second-guessing myself. Another guy volunteered to help us serve drinks.
Full Disclosure #2: There was supposed to be a q&a discussion after the Saturday performance. Someone suggested that we go to a nearby bar instead. It sounded very French. So I joined Wampach, his drummer Jérôme Renault and the rest of the party, to a very nice bar/restaurant near Essex Street. It was a lovely summer night.
If these adventures bother your sense of propriety, stop reading here. Click your mouse over to the boring site of some other media schmuck whose so-called “objective” coverage has less passion and is less informed about what’s happening at the Queer New York International Arts Festival, which runs through June 15 at Abrons Arts Center. Tonight, Sunday, June 10, is the final performance of Auto + Batterie.
Auto + Batterie matches up two enticing works, in which Wampach conspicuously foregrounds the theatrical relationship between dance and music. In Auto, a nocturnal duet with a pianist, Wampach portrays a crazed transvestite. Unfortunately, the pianist, Aurélien Richard, could not come to New York, so Wampach decided to present an abridged solo in which he is paired with a shadowy film image of himself dancing with an obsessed pianist who is maniacally pounding frenetic chords on a piano that slides across the stage.
Auto is an hour-long piece, but, as Wampach himself confesses, has been much truncated here. As a result, it morphed into something else. The performance of Auto I saw turned out to be a campy duet between a slightly trashy dancer and projected video remakes of specific movie scenes that mimic the palimpsest style of the Body Double films of Brice Dellesperger, an artist based in Paris. Dellesperger is an expert faker. He recycles movies scenes from the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian de Palma and then adds his own subversive layers, turning them inside out.
In homage to Dellesperger’s blatantly archetypal reconstructions, Auto briefly spoofs Brian de Palma’s Carrie, except that Wampach (wearing a straight black wig) accepts a bloody leg from the fans (instead of a bouquet of flowers) upon being named the homecoming queen. Auto ends with Wampach improvising a live voiceover to a whacked-out soap opera in which Wampach portrays Peggy, a neurotic, delusional, suburban housewife, who goes on the lam when her overweight maid, Grizelda, smothers Peggy’s husband to death with her big black butt. Sound familiar? Wampach and friends remade John Waters‘s 1977 film Desperate Living. Not the whole film, obviously. Just the hysterically funny set up of this crime-comedy-fantasy-horror movie.
Batterie is the only “real” dance that unravels. Where Auto is a languid dance to dissonant music (well…to dissonant film remakes), Batterie pairs a lathered dance with the drumming of Jérôme Renault, who simply rocked the house. A native of Pau, a bucolic city in the southwest of France at the border with Spain, Renault is an astonishingly strong musician. Even when he gets toppled over and falls to the ground, he continues to play great percussive music. Almost nothing stops Renault from drumming. He looks older, has a bulkier build and sports a thick slab of a typically Gallic moustache. In physical terms, he counterpoints the leaner, longer-legged Wampach, who wore a pair of green sweatpants. Full Disclosure #3: Drummers, especially French ones, are hot.
Auto + Batterie is as much theater as it is dance in terms of composition. In Batterie, Wampach and Renault stand on two squares, about 2 x 2 meters. You wouldn’t know it at first, but both men are actually shirtless. Their upper bodies are completely covered with thick swatches of shaving foam (brand: Avene). The piece is maybe 25 or 30 minutes long. Although the piece sets up a frothy competition between dancer and drummer, both performers do leave each other alone onstage. They both get their moment in the limelight. Back in 2007, when Renault and Wampach did it for the first time, it was more an improvisation. Since they have performed Batterie together some 30 or 40 times, the piece became more set in place, although this was difficult to discern given the riot and rain of white foam that were whisked all over the stage.
This is not the first time Batterie has been presented in New York. It was shown at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn in October 2012, featuring a different drumer (as I understand). This current presentation received funding from Institut Francais and FUSED – French U.S. Exchange in Dance. A dancer, notably for French choreographers Christian Rizzo, Mathilde Monnier and Odile Duboc, Wampach has a young, pliant and surprisingly robust body. Auto is about sexy swaying of the torso, outstretched arms flowing behind the back, and gyrating femininity. Batterie is about athletic rhythm and strength. Legs outstretched in a V, Wampach throws his body to the ground. At one point, his body shakes and shimmies while his head and neck act as a stolid signpost. Once the foam has splattered everywhere, Wampach invades Renault’s space and rubs his body on the drummer for more white lather. Who could blame him? Drummers, I’m told, are good in bed because of the skill and coordination it takes to bang their instrument.
Auto + Batterie pairs together campy femininity and wild masculinity with dollops of humor. It’s about minds and bodies going out of control. Current winner of a Villa Kujoyama prize, David Wampach tells me that he just returned from Kyoto where he spent a six-month residency. His next project explores the sex industry in Japan and pays special attention to the orgasm. Auto + Batterie makes me wonder what kind of lubrication the French choreographer will apply to that piece of spectacle.
David Wampach (France) – Auto + Batterie
Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10, at 8:00pm
Abrons Art Center: Playhouse
The Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), NYC
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