all photos: Joel Didriksen
As I was waiting for Jean-Baptiste Andre to start his performance Sunday evening, I was thanking god for the fact that I have a DVR. Frankly, I was worried about the greater psychic ramifications of missing out on NFL playoff football to go to the Kennedy Center and watch a French circus performer. Good thing then for technology, I say. It can be a godsend for those times when you are questioning your manhood.
But for the entirety of his performance piece, Dis-moi ce que tu wis et jet e dinai…(Tell Me What You See And I Will Tell You…), I could only marvel at the fact that I was witnessing a man writhe about onstage for thirty minutes. I began to get caught up in the moment, and at one point I thought I was watching a live version of the stretching portion of a home exercise tape directed by David Lynch. It had all the elements: a bare stage, the floor divided into a grid, a lone mirrored disco ball, a haunting French aria, a midget in the corner with a burning playing card speaking in reverse. Well, all except for the last one, but if you replace “midget” with “Frenchman trained as an acrobat specializing in handstands and art of the clown”, it’s pretty much the same thing.
I couldn’t begin to say what it was supposed to mean, and I would be doing a disservice to the artist to even try to make sense of it. I could look at my notes and see that I jotted down Jesus Christ, a marionette, a tightrope walker, and the miracle of birth. A better hack could find a way to weave these themes together in a coherent manner, but I’m not that hack. I can’t form a cohesive explanation of the performance when all I can think about is the choice of music and the song that was played where the singer seemed to be comparing the act of sexual intercourse to the act of making sandwiches.
It’s a credit to Jean-Baptiste, then, for that half an hour, I could look beyond the “sandwich making as sex” metaphor, forget about the football game awaiting me at home, and just be hypnotized by the poetry of someone moving across a bare stage. Yes, France, it is possible to soothe the savage American male with art. Maybe if you sent a coalition of circus performers to Iraq this whole pesky war thing would end soon. Then again, maybe you’d wind up with a bunch of dead clowns.