At the Sadler’s Wells: James Thiérrée fait un tabac rouge

It was again a last minute call for me on that eve to attend the show. Replacing an exhausted reviewer, I had to choose and cross out another event from my diary. I was seeking for inspirative renewals, something to reap me out of my world and subsequently fuse it to forms o’ mine, shapes and colours of self. On a handful of points was I served, although the above starred rating might not be an accurate reflection of it. But qui aime bien chatie bien.

Revolving around cerebral and smoke-able susbstances, Thierree’s new show bolsters tremendous content and food for thought. It delivers an intense modern dance experimentation to the audience, always clever, minutely staged at the same time its feels comfortably spontaneous, dare I say impromptu when it patently isn’t. And that, dear friends, is a compliment.

It is laudatory because I witnessed dancers as much as actors at the apex of their art, transcending characters, making us forget that they could return to their self at another time of the day. The execution in dance, choreography, acting and vocals was tip-licking perfection.

I very much enjoyed the start before the actual start: the crowd still responded to the bell call, busy in the stairs, chattering under the lights, looking for their seats… But in a discreet manner, stewards were carrying dancers on stage, laying them like dead meat on ground hovering transversal light posts. Most of the troupe was already brought when I realised. The audience wasn’t done with their hustle that the posts started raising up and down alternately, taking the dancers to a good twenty feet over the stage. Gosh, in those records of today’s security standards, I was dazzled. The music spoke out, the posts went down, the dancers furled and crept out like lizards. Our lights tuned down and the sole sight became one of a lone man, standing on the right side amidst posts, all white from the round light on him. He lit a cigarette, he blew it, in long, ample and wide breaths, amplified by the sound system. Puff, hiss, puff, hiss, until one last blow got retained. That character could never find her a way out, nor could he trace where there smoke could actually be – despite attempting in all ways, and funnily. The night launched upon a twisted allegory.

The action itself plotted in a sombre, decayed post-industrial interior overlooked by a wobbly, rusty, scraped patchwork of scaffoldings upon which hung, on one side, an assortment of senescent but cheap mirrors. Still at an early stage of unlocking elements of decryption, we beheld a game of confrontation, befriending and abandonment between a swarm of wicked, restless, high-pitched squealing petty gargoyles and taller, seriously costumed gentlemen. They messed up, played with furniture, but all stopped asudden. Someone was knocking on a door. It was monsieur Thierree! And let him come in! But the door refused to open properly, and times elapsed after him trying by all means, anger, contortion and kicks to finally succeed – rewarded by a cheerful applause. That character was an ageing one, it looked tired, weary and pale, obviously not very lively. He soon sat on a dusty armchair, he started smoking. For the next hour and half, we would explore the infinite circle of repeated turpitudes of an addict. Because this is what it’s about. The stage was the head of that white-haired man. It brightened shortly with puffs of god knows what, and got rampaged, ravaged and wasted every time gargoyles triumphed and the control powers failed to restore any sense of discipline. It collapses into a pit of hopelessness until comes another shot of illuminations.

Thierree’s show is culturally dense and versatile, working around the theatrical break. In my eyes it was sprinkled with a dozen single moments of rare genius.

It spoke to me as an anthem to a recovered surrealism, more relevant today than ever before, hitting matters of morals, social and urban decadence, numbness and indifference in front of the dead end of modern lifestyle and its inevitable forthcoming downfall.

Tabac rouge is also very much of an auditive experience, floating from scents of Satiesque Gymnopedical chords to Pink Floyd’s Money intro, industrial electro vagrancies, deconstructions of Vivaldi’s summer storm, etc. I indeed did appreciate the profusion of classical arias, even if assimilated to the notion of being high!

Tabac rouge is not going to answer any questions on any subjects, only raising smokey questions marks on many subjects. I don’t believe it conveys any psychological vector, or ends up having any meaningful impact on a post-show audience. Many occurrences are atmospherically recalling of De Quincey’s recounts in Confessions of an Opium eater and Suspiria de Profundis, for which I beg the reader to kindly allow me to mention those prime classics of the drugs literature. I simply wish that Thierree’s show went into a genuinely meaningful direction, not just a collection of pictures. The character gets high, down, high, down, etc., then he dies. Okay. I started monitoring my watch after a little more than an hour. What I want in those days is to pluck myself out and overshoot the mere representations of drug addiction inner life since Woodstock. “Purple haze, all in my brain…” In 2014 it is worn to the bone, and it’s a polite statement. “And when you’re high you never… ever wanna come down…”

Yet my major grievance wishes to point out at the absurd loudness of the sound system. It was extremely discomforting and would have thrown out of the hall anyone with hearing problems. I am not going to a dance show to wear earplugs, and certainly not expecting to harvest a tinnitus for the night and the morning after.

Let us enjoy shows under 130 dB, and let there be work some more on scripts, for the dance techniques and visual creativity have become – wonderfully – the least thing to worry about nowadays.

Author: Francois Mauld d'Aymee

Francois trains to become a classical singer at the same time he runs a tutoring company in Central London. He loves opera as much as any other kind of classical music, never missing an occasion to attend the great performances.