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C'est Chic

To consider (La)Horde is to contemplate cool. The French collective is made up of artists Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer, and Arthur Harel. These three are also currently the directors of Ballet National de Marseille, just one among several multidisciplinary and commercial pursuits. Their punk aesthetic and rebellious tone permeated “Room With A View”—a work created in 2020 with Rone, a French electronic music producer and artist—which had its New York premiere on October 20, 2023 at NYU Skirball.

Performance

(La)Horde: “Room with a View,” created with electronic music producer Rone

Place

NYU Skirball, New York, NY, October 20, 2023

Words

Candice Thompson

(La)Horde in “Room With A View.” Photograph by Thomas Amouroux

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From a purely aesthetic sensibility, so much could be filed under Cool: Julien Peissel’s set, which dropped the dancers inside a white rock quarry and offered many levels and ledges for the body to explore; the relentlessly thumping music, with Rone twiddling knobs live; the stark, prismatic lighting by Eric Wurtz; the modified and layered streetwear of Salomé Poloudenny’s costume styling; and the long stares that accompanied the f*$! you/f*#@ off attitude of the dancers. All of it a visceral and vicarious brush with youth and its possibilities. Among them, can existing narratives and power structure change through limitless energy and the sheer force of will?

When I arrive, the performance is already a party in progress. As the audience settles into seats, a lone dancer pulses her body next to Rone, his sound booth tucked into a rectangular cutout high up in the wall of the set. Slow motion duets come and go. They seem unaware that they are balancing in lifts so close to the edge (or too cool to care!). Later, Joao Castro dangles Myrto Georgiadi over the void in a precariously extended embrace. Once Georgiadi’s feet contact the floor of another ledge, Castro climbs down to wrap his body around her.  She holds him in a loose cradle. But lest we be lulled into romance, antagonistic shoving and forceful kissing inform us otherwise: this is a battle.

(La)Horde in “Room with a View.” Photograph by Soulage

Their combative dynamics continue as dancers multiply in the tight space around Rone. The house lights go down and now I can feel the bass in my seat. The dancers thrash to syncopated beats, emphasizing an apparent disregard for safety, heads banging an inch from what looks like a concrete floor, fists narrowly missing one another as they pump the air. They surf Rone over their heads and in this confined space he skims the ceiling before tumbling down in an adagio of arms grappling, reaching, and crawling.

A dreamy sound of faraway choral voices marks a shift; sand pours from the ceiling in two narrow streams. Rone climbs up to a high perch and vapes while the dancers begin to navigate down to the floor of the stage. 

More couples form and fight. They climb onto each other’s shoulders, jerking heads around and eventually undressing their partners. But I am mostly unable to focus on their progressions because up in the former club area a man is stabbing a woman. Her body flops like a limp rag. During the short time it takes for me to wonder whether this violence is meant to be the very literal enactment it seems to be, or if it is a farce, the scene has developed into what looks like torture, her head forced down at an unseemly angle, and then, full-blown rape. Completely limp on her back with a leg splayed hideously out to the side, the man pumps his hips into her to the rhythm of the beat. 

In what feels like a never-ending vignette that is now threatening to overshadow everything that came before, their sadistic mime continues. Post-rape, he tosses her around, dragging her by the hair. When she eventually escapes and climbs up onto the very top of the set, she somehow overpowers him and we are forced to follow a gratuitous revenge as she strangles, sodomizes, and bludgeons him. Naked dancers raise their fists down below. Is this gesture in resistance to this traumatizing depiction? And was this cruelty between two individuals meant as a stand-in for the larger violence of the world? I am left with many questions about the lack of nuance in the prosaic choreography and the murky romantic-political conflation—all of which in this theatrical setting feels unjustified and suddenly, very uncool. When fish rain down from the sky in some kind apocalyptic transition, I am simply relieved.

(La)Horde with electronic music producer Rone in “Room with a View.” Photograph by Cyril Moreau

Rone returns, setting up his booth on the ground floor and drawing the dancers in like the Pied Piper. Their eyes look off at a distant point as they slowly march forward in unison. Nathan Gombert skips and bounds in and out of the group, tearing at his own shirt with this teeth, jubilant and defiant. Quartets peel off in feats of acrobatic partnering that still seem to favor grabbing, yanking, and pulling on each other’s limbs. There is immense strength and diligent attention in their ability to fling their bodies so freely, to skim the floor without scraping their faces. 

There is a feeling of greater community as they link arms, moving around Aya Sato with a grapevine step. The circle contracts to lift her up and dozens of hands reach into the air to guide her down. With this newfound camaraderie, their attention is drawn outward to some kind of enemy lurking beyond the proscenium. Middle fingers flip with adolescent insistence, tongues wagging insolently; invisible objects are thrown; and hands clap chests in percussive solidarity. This is not a group that plans to go easy or quietly. 

In the abundance of so much varied talent, and endurance, Elena Valls Garcia continually draws the eye. Her utterly unselfconscious presence and powerful physicality sparkle in a duet that turns away from debasement and towards transcendence. Side by side, Garcia and her partner spin on their knees and sail their bodies over one another, heads whipping to catch each other’s eyes and smiles. They are dancing with and for each other, upping the ante and adding dares as they pick up steam. The exuberance and mutuality feel even more welcome after the harsh manipulations and performative lack of consent that set the tone for much of the other partnering. Her indefatigable spirit is awe inspiring and it is no surprise when she is the last person to exit the stage, beating her chest red raw up until the final notes.

Candice Thompson


Candice Thompson has been working in and around live art for over two decades. She was a dancer with Milwaukee Ballet before moving into costume design, movement education and direction, editing and arts writing. She attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, graduated from St. Mary’s College LEAP Program, and later received an MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University. She has written extensively about dance for publications like Andscape, The Brooklyn Rail, Dance magazine, and ArtsATL, in addition to being editorial director for DIYdancer, a project-based media company she co-founded.

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