REVIEW: Aurélien Bory’s “Sans Objet” at BAM
Aurélien Bory’s “Sans Objet,” which premiered tonight at BAM, is built around a robot. But when you initially picture a little talking box that is somewhere between R2D2 and Wall-E, it is a great underestimation. This creation was originally developed by the auto industry in 1970. It is doubtful that its grace was noted then. Now, crafted by Pierre Dequivre and programmed live by Tristan Baudoin, it occupies more than half of the stage, extends almost to the rafters and can turn, drop, grip and pivot on smooth and quiet gears. Under the right lights and dramatic sound, what once just moved auto parts is now high functioning kinetic sculpture. And in spite of a charismatic performance by actors Olivier Alenda and Olivier Boyer, this robot is the star.
When the curtain opens, the machine is shrouded by a stage sized expanse of black plastic. It moves simply at first, just a few rustles of motion. Then, it begins to twist into textured shapes. For us, its exactly like cloud watching. Our imaginations take over as the “face” shifts with each twist. It takes on many personae in movement, some sinister, some playful.
And if [the machine] isn’t enough, Bory incorporates shadow and mirrors. The robot picks up a light and illuminates only half the stage at once. It flips the floor to reveal a mirrored side that distorts the men. The visual design is “Sans Objet’s” motor and heart.
When Alenda and Boyer enter the space they immediately dive into uncovering the shape. Underneath the shroud we see the surprising simplicity of this one-armed steel thing. The Olivier’s follow their curiosity and become attached to the robot: it picks them up, slides them around, and even buries them beneath movable planks in the stage. Soon, they are doing the impossible, dangling from single planks of wood, sitting and walking down the moving sides of their third counterpart, free-falling from the machine arm. The interplay of man and machine hinges on phenomenal timing and effortless skill. They know where their weight is at all times.
What is not readily obvious is Tristan Baudoin’s critical role. He is sitting at the back of the stage hidden by the action, operating the robot as the actors play. The level of necessary collaboration and exactness is even more impressive with the knowledge of this live element. And if that isn’t enough, Bory incorporates shadow and mirrors. The robot picks up a light and illuminates only half the stage at once. It flips the floor to reveal a mirrored side that distorts the men. The visual design is “Sans Objet’s” motor and heart.
Amongst all the logistics there is a vulnerability in Sans Objet that is hard to put your finger on. How can a robot, so clearly sterile, appear so vulnerable at times? As a human, I know I layer on this personification, so when it bows its “head” slowly I feel something. Speed, force and timing of movement all communicate a clear intention and personality, even from a robot.The tangible relationship between the trio is all at once based in curiosity, submission and possibility. The two dancers are just as in awe as we are.
I had the chance to speak with Mr. Bory about the project. “A month ago, I was in at the airport when a power break happened. No electricity, no computers, nothing. Just for one hour. People were strangely silent as if everybody became conscious of how much we usually follow the rhythm of machines. The airport was the same, but the time seemed slower, the light was only natural, we didn’t need more. It was a moment full of poetry,” Bory says. The connection to machines now in everyday life seems inseparable and automatic, and this was the question that began “Sans Objet” for Bory.
Staying always in this unknown area of “is something about to happen” is the risk of art.
The process of working with a robot was not always like clockwork. He had to learn to rehearse this mechanical lead as any other actor: “I remember that the first six weeks of rehearsal, nothing happened but bugs! Theater is not made for machines! And I had to handle that question and I struggled a lot before I found a way to make this machine something bigger than that.”
But in the idea, there was a magic approaching that only faith and perseverance uncovers. “Staying always in this unknown area of “is something about to happen” is the risk of art,” Bory says.
“Sans Objet” shows again only tonight, November 10th. For more information visit www.bam.org.