Reviews Dance Published 31 January 2014


Sadler's Wells ⋄ 29th - 30th January 2014

From the factory to the playground.

William Drew

Writer and Musée de la danse associate Gilles Amalvi describes the original production of Enfant, presented at the Avignon Festival and scaled down for Sadlers Wells, as “a piece for 26 children, nine adults, and three machines”.

In the first section, lights go up on the first of these machines, a crane at stage left which is automatically rotating, designed to change direction when it reaches a point of resistance.  It moves in silence, connected to rope that is stuck on to tape placed at the front of the stage.  It’s as if we are experiencing the final moments of the unwrapping of the performance. Some kind of oversized, retro­ futuristic gadget.  There’s no other sound other than the machine moving and it’s totally enthralling to watch.  It could be an installation in its own right but it’s also dance.  The machine’s movement is choreographed.  The analogue nature of it means that the processes are simple, visible enough that we can understand it in terms of human movement.  Finally the machine appears to be reeling in something heavy.

It’s a human dancer but an entirely inert one: sleeping, playing dead.  Another dancer is dragged on to the stage and the second machine starts up.  This time it’s a L-shaped conveyor that faces out to the audience.  The crane drops dancers on to it causing them to move not through their own volition but as determined by the unrelenting industrial cycles of the machines.

On the austere, minimal set, the lowering of inert mammals by pulleys on to conveyor belts has disturbing connotations. There’s something generally industrial about the whole thing but more specifically it called to mind the slaughterhouse for me.  Having set up these connections, bringing children on stage seems particularly provocative and, of course, that’s what Charmatz does next.  The children are as inert as the adults once were and this time it’s not the machines but the adults who manipulate the children.  In making them dance, they act as puppeteers but the effect is the opposite to puppetry: instead of making an inanimate object seem human, manipulating a human child makes them seem more dead.  It feels like a grotesque, undignified spectacle.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that the experience is not a positive one for anyone involved: it’s not enjoyable to watch and must be uncomfortable or boring for the performers (both the puppeteers and the meat puppets).  The shift comes though about two thirds of the way through the piece and when it does it’s a shocking, exhilarating moment, even if I have seen it coming.  The children come to life.  They start by taking on the roles of the adults: puppeteers, getting into small groups to move the big people around.  This feels logical but feels like a counter­gesture to something that had already happened.  Much more thrilling is what happens next: the children start to dance.  While they have clearly been given simple choreographic instructions (a kind of marching rhythm and a sound they have to make), with children as young as five, it’s inevitably a glorious kind of chaos.

The trajectory of the piece came across as a gradual relinquishing of control.  From the factory to the playground, it moves from somewhere terribly dark and automated to a space of play and imagination.  Olivier Renouf’s rumbling ambient music gives way to the piping of Erwan Keravec, drawing the children behind him as if away from Hamelin to the mountains but, having taken control of this space, the children have the power to change the way the story goes and Keravec ends up strung up by the crane, piping upside down as the next generation occupy the space beneath him.

William Drew’s interview with Boris Charmatz.


William Drew

William Drew is a writer, narrative designer and dramaturg based in Brighton. He makes work at the intersection between live performance and gaming as Venice as a Dolphin and a Coney Associate. He is Associate Dramaturg of New Perspectives in Nottingham. He spent several years working in the Royal Court Theatre’s International and Literary Departments and has been a script reader for the National Theatre, Hampstead and Traverse Theatres. You can find out more about his work here:

Enfant Show Info

Choreography by Boris Charmatz

Cast includes Nuno Bizarro, Olga Dukhovnaya, Julien Gallée­Ferré, Peggy Grelat­Dupont, Julien Jeanne, Lénio Kaklea, Maud Le Pladec, Thierry Micouin, Mani A. Mungai, Imane Alguimaret, Evan Aulnette, Emi Boudan, Tikal Contant­Ricard, Ulysse Doni, Kazimir Fischbeck, Atika Heit, Lune Guidoni, Gaspard Gitton, Louane Mogis, Rosa Morel­Flouzat, Violette Rakotoarinohatra, Zacharie Rocher­Sicard, Youna Visioli, Erwman Keravec




Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.