Fast becoming a small Mecca for dance, the region between Geneva and Vevey is home to a growing number of stylish choreographers. Philippe Saire, whose latest production runs until November 23, is one of them.

If your last memory of contemporary dance is Merce Cunningham, whose dancers glide and swivel to the half-silent music of John Cage, it may be time for an up-date. Dance has come a long way since then.


Alexandra Macdonald, Photo Mario del Curto

Dancers, until recently, were essentially fashioned by the choreographic style of the school or company to which they belonged. They entered into dance religion at an early age and returned to real life when, basically, they couldn’t dance anymore. But times have changed. There is a growing population of dancers who have degrees in areas that have nothing to do with dance and choreographers who have first worked in other forms of art.

Mike Winter and Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, Photo erias

Cross fertilization produces the kind of dance for which Philippe Saire is known. His productions tend to be highly theatrical, with dancers of supreme dramatic or comical power. The show currently taking place in his Théâtre Du Sévelin – on the perimeter of the throbbing Flon district of Lausanne – is exactly that. “Il faut que je m’absente” (I really have to go now) is Saire’s second installment of a trilogy on entertainment and, in this case, disappearing (as in magical acts), or as he puts it more quaintly, dis-appearing.

The reference to American musicals and imagery is constant in this production. In the same way that entertainment in the US boomed following both world wars and worked as an antidote to the horror and loss, there is much of the same balancing act in Saire’s latest creation. It is like Frank Sinatra being directed by Tim Burton in a Las Vegas show at Abou Ghraib.

The dancers are stupendous. Their bodies work in mysterious and sometimes complicated ways, but what is most striking are their faces. They engage in constant communication with the audience, their expressions, and sometimes words, appealing to our emotions. This is not dance as is should be, but it is dance as we like it.

Mickaël Henrotay Delaunay, Photo erias

Alexandra Macdonald, who hails from down under, camps a delicious Betty Boop, all felinity and femininity. Her partners are Mickaël Henrotay Delaunay, a shyly shattering Johnny Depp look-alike, Mike Winter, Matthieu Guénégou, Violeta Todo Gonzalez and Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, none of them Swiss. Pablo’s luminous energy in engaging our sympathy is irresistible.

Alexandra Macdonald, Photo erias

If you are ready for dance at the crossroad of theatre and music hall, but with a zest of zeitgeist, Philippe Saire’s shows are for you.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, trained as a journalist, became an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London before moving to Switzerland, where she now covers the art beat and presides several associations.

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