Mathurin Bolze’s A Bas Bruit, loosely inspired by the work of New Wave filmmaker and anthropologist, Jean Rouch, is a play on ideas, time and resistance.
Using the metaphor of walking as a catalyst to construct a set of quasi-narrative situations between three characters, the piece shifts between the pedestrian and the domestic; at the same time, this exploration of time and meaning remains somewhat elusive.
This is a much more scaled-down essay of a show than Bolze’s Du Goudron et des Plumes, which premiered at the London International Mime Festival in 2011 to great acclaim. In Du Goudron, a moving platform became the dramaturgical device for a series of meditations on friendship, exile and community. In A Bas Bruit, two similar devices are used: a giant wheel that serves both as container and surface, and a treadmill; these delineate time and space in different encounters between two men and a woman: Elise Legros, Cyrille Musy and Mitia Fedotenko. Lovers meet and part; destinations seek to emerge for lonely travellers; people meet and wander off, chase each other and compete.
Of course, A Bas Bruit’s loose narrative instances can be identified with various elements of Rouch’s work- a figure whose work attracted plenty of critique for its problematic ethnographic element. Working in both Africa and France, Rouch became interested in local customs and rites; he famously critiqued the British for trying to upkeep a destructive colonialism. In Me, A Black, Rouch invited a group from Ivory Coast to direct and produce the content for a movie about their lives. Featuring three men and a woman, the movie follows the everyday encounters of the family, whilst interspersing these with their own dreams and fantasies. One of his last films, Chronicle of a Summer, saw Rouch presenting a film on the question of happiness, with edited interviews from Parisians all attempting to answering that question. Questions of authenticity, truth and intimacy were questioned in Rouch’s work through a mix of formal curiosity and thematic exploration.
In A Bas Bruit, Bolze references some of this questioning and the aesthetics of an ethnographic, cinematic practice. Through this, Bolze provides an inconclusive, yet engaging essay on perspective onstage. Using the treadmill and the wheel, showcasing the machinery that operates these, alongside projection and sound, allow Bolze to turn the stage into a space of fantasy as well as illusion. Bodies become characters and then return to anonymity; sometimes, the emphasis is on a plasticity of movement, and at others, there’s a poetic play on relationships. Me, A Black is never explicitly referenced per se, though it maintains an almost technical presence in the production. As the final scene attests, Rouch is like a guardian to the explorations of the show itself.
A Bas Bruit’s dramaturgy is reliant on two elements: the first is perspective, and the second is image. Through the use of the two devices, performers can not only give different qualities to seemingly pedestrian situations; they can also extract that moment to a different time and place. Although the specific never materialises in the show, the construction of a series of highly-embodied images provides for some evocative metaphors on the practice of walking, the evetness of movement and the slippery nature of static moments. Interspersed between these are textual extracts on ideas about time and direction (Georges Didi-Huberman), the activity and philosophy of walking (Frederic Gros), and an extract from Rouch’s La Pyramide Humaine on possibility and limits.
A Bas Bruit proposes perspectives on time and pattern; it used these technical devices, and the agility and impressive nuance of the three performers, to construct situations in which a moment is shifted through the lenses of several possibilities. Walking is pedestrian; it is aimless; it is focused; it is competitive. Time is fluid, and sometimes, it passes us by without us even realising it. All these brief subtexts are visible through the dexterity of the performers and the occasional evocative mode of the image constructed on stage.
Yet at the same time, A Bas Bruit is let down by two aspects. The first is its imprecise ambition; despite being structured, and indeed communicating, through the form of the essay, it fails to grasp anything outside of these short moments of engaging social politics or evocative poetics. It seems to reside in the shadow of a wider question that remains opaque; drowned in its many devices, at times, one louder than the other. The second is its conflicted use of character. The female performer is particularly let down by this set of situations; she has no agency of her own- she is always presented in relation to the male bodies that seem to occupy far more narrative space.
A Bas Bruit engages us in some sharp humour, an impressive nuance of movement and skilled shifts in perspective. Despite its shape-shifting question, it manages to traverse an array of brief thoughts on time, duration, people and events, though it certainly is let down by its mix of style and form; yet it leaves behind a opaque and mysterious set of provocations.