My movements are alone like streetdogs
Jan Fabre created this dance solo for the Festival of Avignon in July 2000. He asked the young Icelandic dancer Erna Omarsdottir to perform it, having worked with her on the creation of his two previous large stage productions on the theme of the warrior. The assignment was for a choreographic work no more than 30 minutes long for a specific location. The critics were full of praise. Dominique Frétard of Le Monde called the solo roundly ‘sensational’ and said Fabre’s choreography was “one of the great moments of the festival”. At the request of the many festivals and theatres who have asked for this performance, it has been added to and expanded to 50 minutes.
The opening image is stunning. A small dancer, somewhere between a girl and a woman, stands in a set comprising the corpses of three dogs which, by their strategic positions - suspended in the air or lying on the floor - occupy the stage space. There is also another dog who later turns out to be alive.
Erna Omarsdottir is small. She looks sweet and cuddly. Until she starts screaming in Icelandic (incomprehensible to most people), the language of the Edda: “why have you left behind those whom you love the most?” She is referring to the dogs who are dumped during the holidays. She continues in a funereal voice and convulsively reads a few lines from “La Mauvaise Réputation”, Georges Brassens’ song about the village man who is different from the rest and is snubbed as a result.
She appears in different forms: a rebellious, or dog-like, or girl-like or ladylike creature who uses her body language to creates shades and relief between dancing and movement, free from the unambiguity of the single character. Packs of butter are thrown onto the stage from the control room. Several times she goes from the stage up the aisles to give the butter back, but a rain of butter soon gives her another idea. She uses the butter to eat from, to bite and to listen to, in a deliberately absurd gesture in which she puts a pack of butter to her ear. Perhaps the butter conducts energy or electricity, as in alchemy. In the end she uses the butter to rub herself in with, like a salve or sun cream. She then slides into a sexy dress in which to leave the stage like a lady, with the only living dog of the four on a lead.
It is characteristic of his approach to dance and the dancer that Fabre does not permit neutrality. As a choreographer he stimulates the creation of a character, but it is one who is constantly in metamorphosis. The purpose of these diverse but related figures is to represent a situation and an idea. That of the human who is naked, alone and gathering all his energy to give a clear sign that he or she exists.
For the dramaturgy, Fabre and Omarsdottir worked on the parallel between the stray dog and the creative human, let’s say the artist, or the solo performer, who constantly has to prove himself, suffers blows and is pushed aside when he no longer of use. Like the dog that is left at the side of the road and whines, this is how the dancer, looking all around her, raises her voice to utter deep sounds. Her movements indicate protest. She twirls across the stage as if her limbs led a life of their own. She often goes to the floor, twists and shoots upwards as if she has scorched herself. Sometimes her resistance is animal-like and she becomes as mischievous and rough as a dog. She spills yoghurt and licks it off the floor as a dog might, and then starts a new improvisation, fluent but with breaks that function as fixed points, elements that provide structure. Later, the protests become tragic when set to the music of Léo Ferré’s song ‘Le Chien’. At this she bites firmly into a lump of butter, thrusts her hips forward and pulls them back as if copulating, but like a man in a woman’s body.
Later, she takes up an examining attitude to the stage. She even cleans it. She goes towards the dogs and tries in vain to make contact with them as if she wanted to bring them to life. Frank Pay’s soundscape consists of a mixture of electronic and manipulated natural sounds. It immerses the whole happening in an alienating atmosphere. One clear point of recognition is the Pixies’ song ‘Chien Andalou’, somewhere between surf and noise rock. The song surges through from time to time, or else the dancer sings a few lines from it. A television monitor shows evocative pictures of decaying dogs. A sort of resignation sets in.
She makes herself up as if for a carnival, with a party hat and a tooter, like the dead dogs which she then dresses up. Towards the end, My Movements Are Alone Like Streetdogs has the air of a party of the dead. The skeletons in the audience watch and warm themselves on the stove of the performance.