James Thierree and his Compagnie du Hanneton returns to London after four years with the UK premiere of his production-Tabac Rouge. Thierree is also the performing central character in this dance theatre piece, besides being the director and choreographer. A multi- talented artiste, Thierree has his roots in the circus. He earned his spurs through his close association with big names like Peter Greenaway, Robert Wilson and Tony Gatlif to name a few. He made his mark as a director with his award winning production La Symphonie du Hanneton in 1998. It was a large scale theatrical production that combined mime, circus and dance.Tabac Rouge is a spectacle Thierree style, where he expertly mixes different art forms.
Tabac Rouge has an epic stage design with a huge frame of scaffolding on wheels with sheets of rusty mirror where one can see convoluted reflections.The stage wings have been removed to provide a bigger canvas to his dancers. They speed across the stage sometimes lying on their chest on skateboards, or sitting on wheeled chairs. A brilliant use of space is an essential element of the choreography. Stacks of books and papers pile up on a massive work table which is also on wheels. It is often moved from one end to the other by a dancer who probably hooks herself on the footboard. Period Furniture are wheeled in on the stage. Sometimes removed to create space for some wriggling, muscle twisting, joint breaking dance moves by a group of female dancers who perhaps personify the emotions of Thierree who plays the central character.
In Tabac Rouge Thierree is a haunted man living in the midst of crumbling ruins, constantly visited by memories of his past grandeur. It’s almost a throwback to his Grandfather’s (Charlie Chaplin) memorable rendition of Calvero in Limelight, only much darker and troubled. Tabac Rouge creates a setting of a rundown space which was once vibrant. It has seen many springs but is now covered in the dark winter slumber. Its a ghost of its past glory. Dark shadows occupy the space which was once lit up. Mirrors that would sparkle is now a reflection of doom. Power crippled, pillars crumpled, its people and furniture both covered in a sheet of dust are nothing but junk.
For most of his choreography Thierree is motionless, seated on a huge dusty lounge chair which is as rundown and torn apart as him, contemplating his utter desolation. His expressive eyes and facial muscles convey an array of emotions. A deep sense of melancholy to resentment.The constant visitations by his dancers, the movement of the props, and the mechanism of the backdrop scaffolding is a metaphor of his cluttered mind unable to accept his grim reality, still rooted in past glory. It’s his invisible grip that makes everything on stage swirl, move, dance and sometimes agitate. As if to further drive home the abject despair of his character, his movements are extremely limited like that of a disabled person. He has restricted mobility in his arms and legs, with limbs sometimes hanging loose from joints. Thierree exhibits uncanny control over his muscles and his facial expressions speak more than actual speech.
Though Thierre’s performance is riveting the script lacks cohesion .This could be his intention to leave the audience a little bit confused. What does this mental turmoil lead to? Thierre leaves that unanswered! May be in this age of perishable consumption, all artists should be prepared for solitary reflection among the fading ruins of their forgotten creations.