The French choreographer Philippe Decouflé and his Company DCA brought Panorama to Japan’s Saitama Arts Theatre this weekend to kick off his Japan tour. The choreographer and director of the opening ceremony of Albertville Olympics in 1992, Decouflé is known for his creativity and magical spectacles. 

Panorama © Arnold Groeschel
Panorama
© Arnold Groeschel

His latest work Panorama (premièred in 2012) is a collage of his previous works, from his early masterpiece Codex to later ones such as Shazam! and Iris. Iconic scenes from these works are carefully patchworked together so there is utterly no time at all for the audience to become disengaged. There were even quite a number of children in the audience and we could often hear their laughter. Although some of his works are 30 years old, not one of them seemed dated – almost as though they were fresh from the oven – and all these diverse elements were packed into 90 entertaining minutes.

Decouflé is skilled in creating sense of wonder in each of his works and combining new ideas from other genres such as video games, acrobatics and circus. His use of aerials is especially eye-catching; far more than dancers floating in the air by elastic harnesses, but actually interacting with each other, with a humorous, witty – almost slapstick – effect.

Panorama © Arnold Groeschel
Panorama
© Arnold Groeschel

Another stunning visual effect is shadow playing, which starts with comical shadow projections by hand but develops into beautiful images of the dancer’s silhouette cast onto the screen, where she dances and responds to a second shadow. I am sure that no other choreographer has ever visualized the idea of combat video games into dance with such comical effect, while still serving the beauty of dance. The high-heeled glamorous men and women carrying the sign saying “You Win” were hilarious.

Decouflé’s talent is shown though his ability to shift suddenly from serious and serene movement into comedy. Yet even when events are highly comedic, there is still a sense of marvel, endless imagination, and beauty in the movements.  Switching gender roles, with men in tutus and high-heels, is another of his gimmicks. Indeed, some of the men are dressed as germs, and a woman is even dressed as a deer and performs a lyrical solo. But although some figures are very unusual, there are nevertheless moments when we can feel the joy of watching a truly breathtaking movement.

Panorama © Arnold Groeschel
Panorama
© Arnold Groeschel

Decouflé is also adept in stimulating the audience’s imagination. He (or rather the MC Mathieu Penchinat and his interpreter) asks the audience to close their eyes and imagine a spaceship flying on stage, and when we open our eyes, a spaceship has appeared! There are no narratives to the performances, just 90 minutes of enjoyable, non-stop dancing filled with rich imagination and magical inspiration, telling us that dance is above all fun, and it will take you to another world of fantasies. 

The seven dancers not only had superb expressive qualities in their movements, but showcased virtuousic dance techniques and excellent interactive skills. It was simply amazing how the dancers could perform such varied roles, dancing, and changing costumes and partners so frequently.  Mathieu Penchinat, with his warm, attractive storytelling skills and deep voice was an excellent navigator for the audience and brought coherence to this collage of Decouflé’s works, weaving the whole night into one all-encompassing story.

The audience does not need to think. Here the joy of letting our senses go will free our spirit and let it play in this colorful playground.

****1