Xavier Le Roy’s Lecture-Performance “Product of Circumstances”


Photo by Katrin Schoof

Last week, French choreographer Xavier Le Roy brough a pair of shows to FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival. Monday was More Mouvements fur Lachenmann, a deconstructive movement/music piece, followed up on Tuesday by Product of Circumstances, which is part of the festival’s curated “lecture performance” series.

I missed Lachenman, which Andy caught instead, and he didn’t like it too much. Having spoken to him about it at length, I’m still not sure I would have had the same response. At the very least, I’m sad to have missed it, because Product of Circumstances only served to further my sense of Le Roy as an adventurous artist in the long line of those who have approached their form as radical critique, often exploring and altering the very foundation of the work.

Product of Circumstances was developed nearly 15 years ago as an essay contribution to a conference on performance, and through a combination of text, slides, and some movement, traces Le Roy’s development from molecular biologist to dance maker. It’s less a biographical piece, though, than it is a manifesto structured as anecdote. As a young man finishing his advanced degree in science, Le Roy was working on breast cancer diagnostics, where his youthful idealism ran into the cold hard reality of the marketplace. As a scientist, Le Roy had previously operated with a belief that there was a Truth out there which could be identified through proper objective rigorous inquiry.

At the same time, the dynamics of his personal life were pushing him towards dance as a hobby, and he ultimately made the switch from science to art when confronted by his boss’s unwillingness to accept Le Roy’s skepticism regarding test results, which was viewed as an inconvenient delay in publishing results and basking in the supposed success of the experiment.

But even if art and its subjectivity allowed Le Roy to explore something from a perspective he could embrace, that didn’t mean he was entirely liberated. The demands of the arts marketplace, to say nothing of the ease of falling into patterns and habits, leaves Le Roy deeply skeptical of his own work. And this is what really fascinated me in the presentation: Le Roy seems to try to apply (from time to time at least) the same rigorous inquiry to his own practice he once did to scientific endeavors. The portrait of the artist that emerges is of one who’s skeptical of any first principles, any assumptions at all. Le Roy specifically references working on a recreation of an Eighties piece by Yvonne Rainer as both inspiring and near crippling, because it left him with the sense that there was nothing left to do. But that desire to interrogate the form and reject developed technique for a more genuine engagement in the body seems to be the thread that weaves Le Roy’s work together, and I’m looking forward to getting to see more of his art in the future.

It’s also worth noting that the next performance lecture is this Tuesday, Sept. 27, and features the physical theater artist Jos Houbens. It’s a piece on humor, and friends of mine from London who saw this at the mime fest there a year or two ago say it’s amazing, so see if you can still get tickets.

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