What’s it like to be a dancer? How are a dancer’s steps made? And what non-dance-related factors — chance, love affairs, even public events — wind up shaping a dance career?
Those questions and others are addressed in Jérôme Bel’s one-man show “Cédric Andrieux.”
The solo performer in “Cédric Andrieux” isn’t Bel, but Andrieux himself, a 36-year-old former dancer with Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Lyon Opera Ballet.
In a quietly confiding deadpan tone, Andrieux tells us where he was born (Brest, France) and how old he was when he decided he wanted to become a professional dancer (14).
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Alternating between reminiscence and dance demonstrations under stark lights, Andrieux is the whole show. Those may seem like thin ingredients for an 80-minute performance. But from the moment Andrieux steps onstage, it’s clear he has a knack for doing more with less — and for finding humor in the process while he’s at it.
The purest instance of that: when he recalls a day job he had as an artist’s model.
“You’d better take a pose that you can hold comfortably,” he warns, “because pretty soon it becomes painful.”
To demonstrate, he adopts a pose — a standing-leaning position — that he holds for what, in stage-time, is an eternity, his eyes growing brighter and wider with discomfort. When he finally unfreezes, he wraps things up with a wry “And so on.”
Dance geeks, of course, will want the inside scoop on what it’s like to have Cunningham set dance steps on you. Andrieux doesn’t disappoint — but he does make it sound like a bit like an awkward, painful game of Exquisite Cadavers.
First the legs are put through an unnatural series of steps and pivots. Then some seemingly incompatible torso-bending is added in. Finally the arms are given their own far-flung things to do.
End result: Something that’s pure Cunningham, but with a startling clarification of what the building blocks are that make Cunningham’s movement so distinctive.
You don’t have to be a dance geek to enjoy the show. It works well as an illumination of the hard work, frustration, boredom, depression, physical pain and absurdity that are part of any life and career. Fulfillment, when it happens, is an intermittent state, not a constant.
From the outset, Andrieux downplays any natural dance talent he had as a child, revealing that his first dance teacher’s immediate thought, when he turned up in her class, was: “All right — it will be good for his personal development.”
If he truly did start with so little promise, he more than made up for it. The Cunningham passages he performs, along with excerpts from works by Trisha Brown and French choreographer Philippe Tréhet, are deftly and beguilingly delivered.
Bel’s role in shaping the show is more difficult to gauge, since the stage action springs so entirely from Andrieux’s body, words and experience. But the show’s very minimalism — its hushed understatement and its sharp focus on the bare-bones practicalities of a dance career — indicate an offstage artistic voice that’s as potent as Andrieux’s.
In addition to full-length performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, On the Boards in an unusual move is presenting a 50-minute version of “Cédric Andrieux” geared to children ages 9 and older at 4 p.m. Sunday. If you have a dance-disposed youngster, you may want to check it out.
chael Upchurch: email@example.com