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Jan Martens

October 22, 2015

Ode to the Attempt, The Dog Days Are Over

Reviewed October 22, 2015

NAC Studio, Ottawa

(Repeat performances October 23 and October 24, 8 p.m.)

The Dog Days Are Over, Photograph by Piet Goethals

The Dog Days Are Over, Photograph by Piet Goethals

Perfection, says Belgian choreographer Jan Martens, is boring.

Well, actually, “borring” is the word he uses as he presents his selfie portrait Ode to the Attempt, the first of two works on Martens’ program at the National Arts Centre Studio this week.

We might assume he spells it wrong on purpose – so as not to be boring, which he definitely is not in this new half-hour solo work. But neither is he dancey. Martens is more about making statements than creating dance.

In his peculiarly fearless and theatrical way, in Ode to the Attempt, Martens invites the audience into his process, and into his brain. Using a computer set up on a table stage left, and multiple screens up-stage, Martens types up an agenda of what’s to come. No. 1: An attempt to make you aware of what is coming. No. 2: An attempt to start moving. And on he goes, alerting us to the thirteen steps he will take in presenting his work, which he promises us will have “a good and kitsch ending.”

All in all, Ode to the Attempt is a transparent one-man show that reveals the choreographic currency Martens employs in the creative process from digital technology to basic movement. He doesn’t give us a finished product, but rather the development of the work and a revealing insight into his casual wit, charm and integrity. He takes us into his rehearsal studio.

A funny and telling moment, after a scene in which Martens pulls down his shorts and bares his bottom for several minutes, has the performer suddenly turn up the house lights and ask the audience, “Is everyone okay?”

The final work on the program, The Dog Days Are Over, was inspired by a quote by photographer Philippe Halsman, who shot images of stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe jumping. In 1958, Halsman said of his subjects, “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.”

The subsequent result in Dog Days has eight performers jumping in unison in various patterns for 70 minutes! Audience reaction varied from walking out of the theatre, falling asleep, looking at their watches and staring in astonishment.

Mostly the dancers jump as if they are a sole piece of machinery that will fail if one of them falls out of step. It’s not about grace or beauty or harmony, but rather a disciplined solidarity that is close to frightening.

What does it tell us about humanity? What does it tell us about the individual?

In fact, the work appears to ask a plethora of unanswerable questions: Do you find it exhausting watching the dancers? Do you feel sorry for the dancers as sweat pours out of their pores? Is it entertaining? If it is, why is it? Is it art? What is this telling us about the ability of the human body? What is Martens trying to tell us? Do we need to know? Do we care? Is it boring? Is it perfect?

Is it worth going to see? It probably depends on what kind of a person you are!

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From → Contemporary

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