Self Unfinished, Xavier Le Roy

Carriageworks, Sydney, November 17.

As the audience entered the large Carriageworks auditorium Xavier Le Roy was already in attendance, looking about in mildly interested fashion. Dressed in nondescript casual wear, he sat at a small table in an otherwise featureless white space, his chin resting in his hand. The lights were up and so, as audiences will, people chatted amongst themselves. There was a big crowd for this free performance and the hum was ceaseless. Until, in one of those strange, silent agreements, everyone went quiet. The piece could begin. Which it did, after a brief dedication to those who died in the Paris terrorist attacks that had taken place several days before.

Xavier Le Roy in Self Unfinished. Photo: Peter Greig
Xavier Le Roy in Self Unfinished. Photo: Peter Greig

Le Roy’s 1998 solo Self Unfinished seemed to have particular resonance at this time, summoning thoughts of the fragility of life, the resilience of the human spirit and the truth that we exist only at this moment, right now. Those things, and that we are all in it together. He didn’t make a big thing of it, but Roy’s piece had a strong sense of erasing the invisible barrier between audience and performer. He intrigued, delighted and provoked during a performance that felt very intimate.

During the 50 minutes of what is a signature piece for the French choreographer, he frequently returned to the table as a kind of home base. Each time he rested his elbows on it and leaned forward he seemed to be mentally gathering strength, pulling himself together for the return to life’s fray. In three distinct sections that inspired reflection on the nature of self and humanity, he manipulated his loose, rangy body from its natural normal-guy state into stranger and stranger territory using fewer and fewer means. There was no music score other than his voice, his breathing and the audience’s contribution of coughs (remarkably few), shuffles (ditto) and laughter (less than you’d think; intense absorption was the general feeling).

To begin, Le Roy turned the quotidian acts of sitting, rising, leaving and returning into an examination of bodily mechanics. He moved with the stiffness of an automaton, making machine-like noises that simultaneously evoked emotionless robotics and an endearing little boy at play. He walked backwards very slowly, making one aware of how walking actually works and how precise and lovely it can look.

Le Roy’s deceleration of action and time was soothing, although it also required a little patience from the audience, which is not a bad thing at all. Every now and again Le Roy faced the wall, either standing or lying, as if in private contemplation or repose.

Taking off his shirt, Le Roy revealed a long, stretchy garment that he pulled over his head, leaving an expanse of midriff exposed. He arched backwards and, with his hands on the floor, was transformed into a four-legged, no-headed entity that scuttled and crawled. It was amusing, intriguing, disturbing and dislocating. Le Roy then took the unease a step further, disrobing completely and wrapping himself up tightly. Mostly presenting his back to the audience as he rested on his shoulders, he appeared almost entirely alien. You knew his head was there, but where?

He put his clothes back on and voila! Le Roy re-emerged as that mild-looking man we first met. He went over to a boom-box that had previously refused to emit anything other than some scarcely audible beeps and out came Diana Ross’s Upside Down; a pleasant little joke. Then he wandered off, to be spotted shortly afterwards in the foyer, drink in hand, chatting to a couple of people. The performer melted into the crowd.

The main purpose of Le Roy’s Sydney visit was to create a new work, Temporary Title, 2015, at Carriageworks for Kaldor Public Art Projects. The free performances of Self Unfinished were a generous and welcome bonus.

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