Father-and-son motif : A reaffirmation of human relationship in the cyber age

If the performance of “Des gestes blancs” is supposed to constitute part of the current “Unfolding Kafka Festival”, it is deliberately un-Kafkaesque. The father-son motif as embodied in this dance performance is, on the contrary, a reaffirmation of their intimate relationship. Only two dancers were on stage, the main dancer/choreographer and his 9-year-old son, and they succeeded very well in capturing the attention of the audience for almost a full hour, a remarkable feat of performing arts.

          Any father must have indulged in some kind of home-made acrobatics with his child, of course, without taking too much risk. But the performance by this French duo grows into a fairly complex choreography, which connoisseurs of the modern dance can probably analyze and from which they can compile a long list of technical components. For us, uninitiated, we can take those basic techniques for granted and just enjoy this corporeal dialogue between father and son. I maintain that the performance was varied, captivating, exciting and, most for all, enjoyable. It exuded intimacy and charm and, above all, human warmth. Everything seemed to be taking its natural course – no artificiality, no exhibitionism: the father did not involve his son in acrobatic risks that could have made the audience gasp in awe. It was not a circus!

          The father-son relationship is worth exploring. Before the start of the performance, we saw the child playing with his iphone, with his earphones on. How many parents are familiar with this behavior and how many get impatient with their children who are so absorbed in their own cyber world propelled by such gadgetry? The child relinquished his cyber realm as the show started, and from then on, he was caught in the primordial human relationship between father and son. When the performance was coming to a close, the child returned to his favourite gadgetry and literally “drummed” his way into darkness with absolute enjoyment. The audience found itself in darkness too, before realizing that the performance had come to an end and starting applauding.

           What happened between the domination of the cyber world at the beginning and at the end of the show was the blossoming of the relationship between father and son. That relationship was not smooth-sailing through and through: the child claimed and reclaimed now and then his “independence”. Paternal authority was sometimes resisted: he would not dance along the line that his father prescribed. He went further; he led the way, and the father was cooperative enough to take his cue from his son. This might be a lesson for all parents. They must know how to learn from their children (at the appropriate time). “The child is father of the man”, as the English poet, William Wordsworth, once said.

          I am not taking this performance as a didactic statement. The choreography was so absorbing as to be able to convey its message through imperceptible intimations. Whether the choreographer had intended it or not, I found this performance extremely rich in suggestiveness that set one reflecting further. It is almost Brechtian in the sense that when the performance stops, there begins the thinking process on the part of the audience who has to leave the theatre with a homework. (Many Thai theatre lovers are familiar with Brecht’s “The Good Woman of Sezuan”). And this homework is a hard nut to crack: How should you educate your children in the 21st century? You might get a partial answer from the music used in this performance. There was a quotation from Robert Schumann’s “Träumerei” that soon disintegrated into multifarious forms. But the word  “Träumerei” stuck in my mind – dreaming, yes: use your imagination, as the choreographer and dancers had more than adequately demonstrated to us. The title of the performance, “Des gestes blancs”, an echo from a poem by Apollinaire, stresses too the indeterminacy of things, a “Träumerei” of sorts!

          There is something very French in this performance. While we admire its creative ingenuity, we cannot help being drawn into its general temper of ingenuousness. The well-studied choreography appeared almost improvisational to me. Intimacy and immediacy pervaded the new art space on the roof-top of the time-honoured restaurant, Chai Thalay Chan Phen, which turned out to be a fitting venue for “Des gestes blancs”. The Frenchness here is more akin to Saint-Saëns than to Debussy! It is accessible. The thunderous applause bore witness to that. Thanks for giving Bangkok audience a chance! 

Chetana Nagavajara

15 November 19

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