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The highs and lows of solitude

Julie Nioche performs for Nos Solitude (Our Solitude), a part of Danses dialogues, an Indo-French Contemporary Dance Festival, at Town Hall on Friday. Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ray

It is Friday evening. The stage is set. But it is hardly a stage. It is the vast first-floor auditorium of the Town Hall. Bare floorboards beneath. Naked fluorescent lamps burn above along the length of the set. Weights and counterweights are suspended from above. And so are a jungle of cables and pulleys. Looks as if a flying trapeze artiste will perform here. A tiny young woman with a chestnut mop walks in casually. She wears a white top and black pants. She slips her feet into a pair of safety harnesses which are linked to the cables. She wears wristbands next, which likewise are linked to the cables.

She lies on the floor immobile. A few seconds later she changes position. She stretches her limbs in that recumbent position as if flailing them in sleep. Her movements become more disjointed as she keeps pulling at the cables at the same time. Then suddenly she is floating a few inches above the ground. She could be levitating in a dream. She is Julie Nioche, who besides being trained at the Conservatoire de Paris, has studied psychology. She is also training in osteopathy, and this explains many of her actions (or the lack of them), suspended in a void or in a limbo, as the viewer may choose to interpret. The name of the company is Aime.

This gravity-defying performance of Nos Solitude (Our Solitude) is part of Danses dialogues, an Indo-French Contemporary Dance Festival organised jointly by Alliance Française du Bengale and partnered by The Telegraph.

The performance had nothing conventionally graceful or beautiful, but its beauty lay in the fact that it was open to so many interpretations and the total control with which Nioche manipulated the gravitational force, once allowing herself to sink like a stone, rising again to the surface, soaring upwards, and in an epiphanic split second she seemed to experience an emotion akin to that of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Soon thereafter, she surrendered herself to the downward pull and came crashing down to the floor.

The choreography of the piece charted the human experience with its highs and lows in almost a retelling of the lives of flawed Greek mythological figures like Tantalus. It brought back to mind Emily Dickinson’s poem: Heaven — is what I cannot reach! Apart from the electronic music, she was accompanied on the guitar by Alexandre Mayer.

Nioche has the gift of being totally and amazingly in control of her body and every muscle in it. She could turn herself into a limp rag doll one moment, and a live wire the next, executing the most impossible feats, in an upright position once, and with her head hanging downwards a few moments later. It was almost an hour-long performance, but never did it seem to drag.

But the Town Hall is not an ideal auditorium. The acoustics is faulty, to say the least, and even worse are the plastic chairs meant for the guests which some kept dragging throughout, much to the annoyance of those who were watching intently. Another nuisance was Calcutta’s culturati too busy taking pictures with their mobile phones to notice how they blocked the view of those sitting behind. Some men — must be Town Hall staff — seemed to be playing musical chairs at the far end of the hall throughout the performance.