By Laura Diffenderfer
Maguy Marin has been exploring the human condition through the body for four decades. One of the most important figures in French modern dance, Marin began as a classical dancer, first performing with the Ballet de Strasbourg and then with Maurice Béjart’s company, Ballet du XXe Siècle, before turning toward the avant-garde. Her breakout dance, May B, which premiered in 1981 and came to The Joyce in 1995, drew inspiration from the work of Samuel Beckett, the famed tragicomic playwright with whom Marin shared an interest in showcasing the absurd. But, like Beckett, Marin’s drive to push the boundaries of form is accompanied by a desire to push audiences to derive meaning in new ways. Her work is not an escape from the world, but an alternate way into it.
Following the success of May B, Marin continued to test the limits of dance while exploring social and political themes. In her 1985 version of Cinderella, made for the Lyon Opera Ballet and toured worldwide, she posed the question: Why must Cinderella become a princess to be happy? Marin recast the prince’s family as possessing as many cruel figures as are in Cinderella’s stepfamily, complicating the notion that wealth and happiness are inextricably intertwined. With You Can’t Eat The Applause, performed at The Joyce in 2004, Marin looked at oppressive forces impacting the lives of Latin Americans. Through tedious repetition, she made a point that violence had become so frequent, it was nearly routine.
As The New York Times has noted, “Marin has never let her deep interest in movement exploration dim her concern with how people live and what they do to one another.” In fact, her activism hasn’t been contained to the stage. In 1995, for instance, she participated in a hunger strike to protest a massacre that occurred during the Bosnian War. For Marin, the lines between protest in the theater and in real life are blurred. "The stage is part of the world, not a place for entertainment. Artists need to take responsibility, to confront horror and violence through independent thought," she said when receiving the Samuel H. Scripps Award in 2003.
As you might expect, confronting horror and violence can be deeply uncomfortable, and BiT provides little relief. Examining acts of sexual violence in various incarnations and time periods—a rape committed by monks, for instance—the majority of the work’s movement consists of the French social dance, the farandole. Performed throughout, the dance’s unyielding march hints at our deep capacity for denial—our ability to block out horrific events as we lurch forward without losing a beat. With BiT, Marin explores how sexual violence is interwoven into the rhythm of everyday life. As in many of her other works, what at first seems obscure is actually quite specific. Marin has created a world that is difficult to enter, but also begs that we do not look away.
Compagnie Maguy Marin will perform at The Joyce Oct 25-29.