Review: MAY B - COMPAGNIE MAGUY MARIN, Sadler's Wells

The ongoing process versus product debate

By: May. 22, 2024
Review: MAY B - COMPAGNIE MAGUY MARIN, Sadler's Wells
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Review: MAY B - COMPAGNIE MAGUY MARIN, Sadler's Wells

Maguy Marin is regarded as a major force in French modern dance, and one can understand why when appreciating the work's overall accomplished structuring (notably the use of repetition and cross-phrasing), finite detail, and intoxicating atmosphere…but that doesn't mean it will be an unequivocally enjoyable experience for all - it's the ongoing process versus product debate. Does thought and context allow the end result to be whatever it wants at the expense of the observer? Evidently so here.

That said, the piece is 42 years old and still being performed, and as usual, the Sadler's Wells audience jumped to their feet when it (eventually) finished, not forgetting the numerous loud (and I'd say nervous) outpourings of laughter heard throughout the self-indulgent 75 minute work. So clearly something is working, and completely passed me by.

Review: MAY B - COMPAGNIE MAGUY MARIN, Sadler's Wells

Maguy was inspired by Samuel Beckett (Endgame specifically) for the work, and perhaps a Beckett scholar would suggest she brought the playwright's idiosyncratic style to life through an alternative medium. And if this is the case it confirms Beckett doesn't work for everyone, and neither does absurdity - especially when attained through clownish mime, adorned in Dickensian nightwear and clay-caked faces.

Movement-wise the work is a combination of stifled shuffling and shunts, precisely regimented tight gesture and crotch-grabbing developing into simulated masturbation, supported by endless, verging on violent gibberish, percussive mouth orchestration and omnipresent, gormless facial expressions.

And though I can't deny choreographic skill, the beginning of the evening is a seemingly never-ending slow burn.

The distinctive cast are evidently committed to Maguy and her work, and the moments of Franz Schubert really lift the soul. I believe my sensibilities are more German than French, as I'll let Bausch take me wherever she wants to go, and always seemingly in reflective ease even during the more testing passages, whereas with Maguy I veered towards anxiety and frustration.

My absolute favourite moment was every time the dancers moved as a group and caused a cloud of dust to soar from the floor skywards. This emphasised Maguy's heady atmosphere, as well as reaffirming that pleasure through movement can abound from even the unlikeliest of sources. Elsewhere it was a struggle.

May B was at Sadler's Wells on May 22

Photo credits: Hervé Deroo


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