In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Pierre Rigal’s work. This man is an oddity, in the best sense of the word: a trained athlete, he pursued scientific studies, and landed a Masters degree in – you’ll never guess – cinema. Possessing a fiercely inventive mind, and a stupefyingly gravity-defying physicality, Rigal makes work that stubbornly resists labels – the man could not be boxed in no matter how hard one tried, a metaphor he aptly drove home in his stunning solo Press, the most recent of his previous works seen stateside.

Micro © Pierre Grosbois
Micro
© Pierre Grosbois

This week, Rigal returns to New York with his compagnie dernière minute (in translation: “last-minute company”), with Micro, a challenging work dating back to 2010, and described as a “physical concert”, presented at The Joyce Theater as part of DANSE: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas. The piece opens with Rigal alone rehearsing some vaguely Elvis-like moves on the stage outfitted with the usual concert paraphernalia – keyboards, drum kits, electric guitars, all sorts of twinkling electronics, as well as the titular microphone stands. The set up might appear overwhelmingly familiar, but the action that follows these opening moments turns out to be anything but. Before we know it, the choreographer manages to conjure up a band of four who, along with him, engage on an uncanny rollercoaster ride of musical/physical antics. It would be a crime not to acknowledge the versatile edge and sheer chutzpah of these performers – especially the compellingly gamine Mélanie Chartreux – as they diligently begin to explore heretofore unimagined ways of using (or abusing) the musical equipment, giving way to an uncanny sort of body- and object-puppetry that doesn’t fail to puzzle – initially, at least – and occasionally bursting into song.

Micro © Pierre Grosbois
Micro
© Pierre Grosbois

One has to applaud Rigal and his troupe’s inventiveness – from the initial moments when they use ungrounded sound cables on their bodies to create a rudimentary beat with that high-pitched static buzz; to the section in which someone dives into a bass drum and then wears it like a mask, resembling some strange animal, the pedal becoming its beak; to the hilarious section in which Chartreux becomes a Barbarella-esque automaton, performing a precisely chopped-up movement, accompanied by impressively incomprehensible banter with the audience; and so forth. It is evident from all this that, once again, Rigal is on to something that defies easy classification. Though he is ostensibly a choreographer, there isn’t much dancing involved in Micro: if anything, there is a choreographed movement of the musical instruments and equipment. While this theatre of objects is quite elaborate and the music that is produced in the process often fascinating, the ensuing mayhem loses dramaturgical momentum towards the end of the work’s first 60 minutes, and – like an unhinged concert-goer – overstays its welcome for some 30-odd additional minutes, which include, in my recollection, at least four false endings.

Micro © Pierre Grosbois
Micro
© Pierre Grosbois

This is unquestionably a brave, risk-taking work, but it falls short of a promise it offers at the outset, and the bona fide talent at hand – particularly Rigal’s – feels sorely underutilized. To use a cinematic analogy that would seem apt considering his training: with some brutal editing involved, and with that excess footage left behind on the cutting room floor, Micro could very well become a lean mean machine, much like his extraordinary creator.

****1