The Architecture of Dance

Classic Arts Features   The Architecture of Dance
With Metapolis II, Frédéric Flamand's Ballet National de Marseille and architect Zaha Hadid find a new way to bring structure to the Lincoln Center Festival.

If you wonder what the future holds for big cities and their denizens, Frédéric Flamand, the adventurous choreographer and artistic director of the Ballet National de Marseille, provides a compelling answer in his riveting 70-minute work Metapolis II, which will be presented July 25-27 at the New York State Theater, during the Lincoln Center Festival.

Long fascinated by the intersection between architecture and dance, Flamand has collaborated with some of the world's top architects, among them Diller+Scofidio, Jean Nouvel, and Thomas Mayne. For this piece, he chose the daring, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid as his artistic partner to create a futuristic landscape where human beings struggle to keep their humanity.

"I was drawn to Zaha's fluid buildings and drawings, which are inspired by both the Russian Constructivists and Arabic calligraphy," Flamand says. "I saw in her work ways to structure dancers' movements. In a sense the body is architecture. It continually creates new architecture every time it moves. I like to connect and contrast what is alive and human and what is still by making architecture integral to my dances."

Moved by the example of Los Angeles and other American cities, Flamand and Hadid explore what urban sprawl might look like in 25 years. They decided on a set with three monumental translucent silver bridges spanning 33 feet, which slide into different configurations. To this, they added a complex mix of audio-visual technologies that contribute to the wild, high-energy choreography. "The point was the space itself could dance," says Hadid, who was drawn to the possibility of realizing her designs in a setting unrelated to traditional architecture.

To a discordant, jazzy, techno score by Jacques Yves le Docte and George van Dam, the handsome dancers crawl, leap, and tumble across the blue-green lit stage, as disturbing, grainy, black and white images of traffic jams and subway cars are projected behind them. At times, they wear clothing with blue screens, so that they carry visual material that complements the projections behind them. And adding yet another visual layer, a cameraman onstage shoots footage as they dance, his material joining the mix.

"I tried to envision how human beings will survive in these new urban environments," Flamand says. "I accentuate their sensuality and fragility in contrast to the chaos around them. In this world dominated by machines and technology, I feel I have been forced to question the value of the human body."

Valerie Gladstone writes frequently for Playbill.

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