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Boris Charmatz: Somnole

A French avant-garde choreographer shows both cleverness and self-indulgence.

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Boris Charmatz in his “Somnole” at the Skirball Performing Arts Center, part of the 2023 Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival (Photo credit: Marc-Domage)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Boris Charmatz, a champion of what is considered avant-garde dance in France, performed his Somnole at the NYU Skirball Performing Arts Center as part of the expansively generous Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival series.

Charmatz, famous for his 10,000 Gestures, a dance that consisted of—what else?—10,000 gestures, is a cerebral choreographer who starts his creative juices with an abstract idea and then proceeds to flesh out these ephemeral bits of inspiration into dance movements, their meaning clear only to him.

His Somnole was birthed with the notion of exploring the time between being awake and asleep.  His program notes call it a “vaporous dance that unites familiar melodies and slumberous gestures.”

Boris Charmatz in his “Somnole” at the Skirball Performing Arts Center, part of the 2023 Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival (Photo credit: Marc-Domage)

Charmatz is a handsome, well-built man with charisma that registered through the dim lighting by Yves Godin.  He performed bare-chested and bare-footed, wearing a colorful, pleated skirt—costume by Marion Regnier—on a stage stripped to its bare walls.

His soundtrack was astonishingly piercing and musical whistling which imitated birdcalls and melodies of old pop songs.  It turned out that Charmatz was as skilled a whistler as he was a dancer, although it took a while to determine if the sounds were issuing from his mouth, again because of the lack of illumination.

Emerging from the gloom, he slowly stretched, arms reaching high. He rolled about, finally rising to wander almost as if he were getting used to his legs, all the while whistling.  Like a stream of consciousness in choreographic form, there was no sense of pacing or form, just one movement idea after another, some languid, some buoyant, some witty, particularly when he left the stage to sidle across the front row to pick up a handsome young man and waltz with the astonished guy.

Boris Charmatz in his ‘Somnole” at the Skirball Performing Arts Center, part of the 2023 Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival (Photo credit: Marc-Domage)

Eventually returning to the stage, he sat with his legs apart, somersaulting backwards a number of times, finally resting as if he had finally achieved sleep. He even performed some barefooted tap movements as if he were just vamping, waiting for the next idea.

Far less mystical that he would have us believe, Somnole nevertheless is Charmatz’s honest exploration of his stated theme, although self-indulgence reared its ugly head too often.  The work could easily have been just as effective if edited, but Charmatz’s charm and virility helped fill out the hour.

Boris Charmatz: Somnole (October 28 & 29, 2023)

Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival

Skirball Performing Arts Center, 566 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.nyuskirball.org

Running time:  60 minutes without an intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (542 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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