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Jack Anderson

Magic Act


Philippe Decouflé: "Solo: Le Doute M'Habite"
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
March 6-11, 2007, $38
Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, March 7, 2007

For Philippe Decouflé, the theater is a magic place and performances are magic acts. He has often created large-scale conjurations proclaiming this faith. But in "Solo: Le Doute M'Habite (The Doubt Within Me)" he was alone on stage. Nevertheless, he tried to fill it with illusions, with the aid of videos by Olivier Simola, lighting by Patrice Besombes, a sound design by Claire Thiébault (incorporating a French music-hall song by Bourvil), and live music by Joachim Latarjet on a number of instruments.

Decouflé, who is in his 40's, moves in an appealingly boyish manner and, when required, speaks a charmingly accented English. He first revealed his presence when a view of his upper body appeared on a screen, while his real feet peeked out beneath it. After his entire body emerged, he wished us good evening and rummaged through a scrapbook, projecting family photographs on a screen while reminiscing. This gave way to a solo in which his meticulous isolation of body parts was a reminder that he once studied with Alwin Nikolais. But the influence of that choreographic wizard was apparent throughout the hour-long production.

Decouflé danced with multiple shadow images of himself, let fancy camera work make his limbs and appendages change size so that, for example, his toes once appeared elephantine. His hands and arms darted and undulated without the aid of technology; with it, they seemed to splinter and reassemble in shape after shape.

All this was amiable, yet also insubstantial. The production lacked focus and never gathered momentum. Ideas were introduced and left undeveloped. Thus the family-album sequence, agreeable though it was, led to no particular point. The existential implications of "Solo's" subtitle remained unexplored. And if pure illusion was all Decouflé had in mind, then his production needed to be still more spectacular. He appeared to be merely puttering with a box of magic tricks.

However, one episode was sheer joy: a mock-Busby Berkeley chorus-line routine in which Decouflé's live body stretched and bent while on a screen what looked like endless replications of himself receded into the distance, expanding and contracting in unison, then crazily tilting to this side and that until Decouflé became a human kaleidoscope.

Here was a scene that left me panting for more: more illusions, more wonder, more enchantment, more magic.


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