Je veux bien, copyright Charlotte Walker

Philippe Saire, the Swiss choreographer of international repute, brings his fascination for the seedy glamour and tinsel glitter of Las Vegas to Sevelin theatre in Lausanne. A whimsical plot casts the dancers as bumbling entertainers whose antics never wipe off their wide-eyed smiles. The result is full of theatrical fantasy and unbridled fun.

Article published on 24 November by the now defunct Swisster.ch

To say that Philippe Saire’s latest production is dance would not do it justice. “Je veux bien vous croire” (I’d like to believe you) closes a trilogy dedicated to the world of American entertainment by Switzerland’s most versatile choreographer.

The Philippe Saire company, following performances in Brazil and before going to the legendary Joyce Theater in New York in January, is wrapping up its shows on show business at the Sevelin Theatre in Lausanne.

Is this real, we ask ourselves, photo Mario del Curto

Started in 2006, Saire’s “narrative trilogy”, as he calls it,  borrows the codes of razzmatazz show-biz to transform them into a cerebral questioning on the purpose of distraction and escape.

The circus, Broadway musical and magic antics can be taken at face value or bolster your neurons.

The audience is swept into Saire’s shows never really knowing what to expect and that’s part of the game.

“Est-ce que je peux me permettre d’attirer votre attention sur la brièveté de la vie?” (May I please call your attention to the shortness of life) in 2006 was a big affair that thundered across the stage in a collage of wild-fire scenes.

“When I finished creating this show, I felt that I still had a lot to say on the theme of entertainment,” Philippe Saire explains.

The result was “Il faut que je m’absente” (I have to slip out) in 2008, a show that was more tense, with elements of drama holding together the soft-shoe and tap dance numbers. See Swisster review.

“It was such a jubilatory experience to discover the artificial mechanisms that allow audiences to be enraptured,” says Saire.

The latest event is something different altogether. It starts with a six-foot tall white rabbit throwing up on stage. But don’t take fright, he’s only vomiting the pieces of shiny material used for music hall costumes that he had previously stuffed down his throat.

Je veux bien, photo Mario del Curto

“What lies under the surface of the world of entertainment fascinates me even more,” the choreographer says. “Our vital need for entertainment, for escapism, and the touching fragility of the process.”

He is offering us a metaphor. So when the dancers appear on stage not knowing what is expected of them, staring with wide-eyed innocence at the audience, we’re aware of the spoof, but we’re ready to be taken for a ride.

The dancers start to perform by breaking into steps, using the lime lights, disco balls and stage material as props. They make contact with each other, collide, step away, always keeping busy and always entertaining us.

The stage comes alive not in a way that is ordered and predictable, but in joyful anarchy. The dancers become pranksters, appealing to our joyful sympathy.

Music is the cement that holds it all together and it is clear that Saire has the chaos in complete control.

Fabien Ruf, head of the Lausanne cultural department, says that he “was immensely touched by the show. I loved the mix between nostalgia and causticity, between kitsch and emotion.”

Philippe Saire is the rabbit who sheds his wildlife costume to become the aging diva who attempts to rob the limelight back from his dancers.

It would all be a bit ridiculous, except that Saire pours himself into the dance.

On the obsessively repetitive Cucurrucucu Paloma sung by Caetano Veloso he delivers a solo performance half way between beauty and self-irony.

The dancers stand around in disbelief and embarrassment, not knowing what to do, before they start to drag all the props off the stage and attempt to stop the dancer by putting his jacket back on.

“The theatricality of dance comes with the art of disappearing,” Saire says enigmatically but we understand better what he means now.

In the end the dancers join in lamely. The rabbit/diva gets the last word, as if destiny will always get the upper hand.

Je veux bien, Photo Mario Del Curto

The thrilling thing about this show is that it is not dance. At least not the way we expect it. There is a dose of intense theatricality and humour that will appeal to all audiences.

And what we will remember about the dancers is not only the way they move their bodies, but their faces and the huge array of feelings that their expressions communicate.

The Philippe Saire company receives the backing of the Lausanne, Vaud and Pro Helvetia.

Philippe Saire, Portrait by Véronique Botteron

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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