It’s all in the hands: Charleroi Danses’ ‘Kiss & Cry’ is made for dancing fingers

Photo by Marteen Vanden Abeele

Photo by Marteen Vanden Abeele

Susan Isaacs Nisbett
(Ann Arbor, Oct.9, 2014)

She is a choreographer and dancer. He is a cinematographer. They are a couple.

Together with a team of collaborators, they’ve made a theater piece that, like a child, is at once something of both of them and yet totally unique.

It’s “Kiss & Cry,” a “nano-dance” about memory and love from Belgian artists Michele Anne De Mey (an associate artist at Belgium’s Charleroi Danses) and Jaco Van Dormael (“Toto the Hero,” “The Eighth Day,” “Mr. Nobody”). The University Musical Society brings “Kiss & Cry” to Power Center for three performances Friday through Sunday.

“Kiss & Cry” is in the truest sense a digital work. That is, it’s made for dancing fingers (De Mey’s and those of her partner, Gregory Grosjean), not feet. If the action is writ small, it is projected large – filmed as it happens live on a mini-set on stage, giving the audience micro and macro views. And it contemplates big, poignant themes — like where do people go when they disappear from our life?

It all started on a kitchen table, Van Dormael said in a September Skype interview from Belgium, joined by De Mey.

“We’ve been living together for like 14 years,” said Van Dormael. “I’m a cinematographer, but we never succeeded to work together. It’s very difficult to film the dancing. If you get the face, you miss the body, and if the body, you miss the face, We were looking for something different, where one art form was not serving the other. We started in the kitchen with two friends and cameras.”

The question before them, said Van Dormael, was: “Is it possible to make a long feature film only on a kitchen table, for Michele to dance only with the hands, to use tiny spaces but to look big on the screen?” What would happen when a viewer had simultaneous access to both the live action and its live projection on screen?

They started without a script, without anything, “to see what it is possible to make in tiny boxes, tiny spaces, with tiny lights,” Van Dormael said. Could they make characters? A body? Animals? They created deserts with sand, the sea with some tissues, a sunset with a flash. They were fascinated by the mix of scales: a hand asleep on a pillow might look small; as it rose, however, it looked bigger than the whole bed, Van Dormael remembered.

Eventually, over a four-month period (“Short compared to making a film,” Van Dormael noted), “Kiss & Cry” coalesced. It would be a theater piece, a show – what De Mey called in French “un spectacle” — in which the miniature action, live on stage, would be matched with film that shot the action fresh, as it was happening, in front of the audience.

“The audience sees things with their eyes which the camera doesn’t see,” said Van Dormael. “All the nine people on the stage make a sort of choreography. And what is too small to be seen with the eye, the camera can show.”

But what would the action be about? After the first month – which was all about seeing what it was possible to make with hands, miniature sets and cameras – the collaborators were looking for a story.

A friend with whom Van Dormael had written scripts had the idea of an old woman remembering the first time she fell in love. She was on a train, and she was 11; for just a few seconds, her hand touched the hand of a boy on the train. She can recall the hand, but not the face or the name. And all her life she has been looking at the hands of men around her, searching to find the man this boy has become.

“Kiss & Cry” became a poetic meditation on love and loss. “It’s five love stories,” Van Dormael said, “about the woman and the five men she loved in her life.” Its title alludes to love’s joys and sorrows, but the show actually takes its name from the “kiss and cry” area at skating competitions, where competitors await their scores, Van Dormael said. There is, however, a romantic skating scene in the nano-dance.

In making “Kiss & Cry,” all the artists were out of their comfort zone.

“Everybody had to learn something new,” Van Dormael said. “For me, it was not like making a film. For Michele Anne, it was not like making a choreography.” And, he pointed out, the experiment would not have been possible even 10 years ago: the tiny cameras on the tiny train of the set, for example, had not been invented.

While Van Dormael pondered storytelling technique (“As a filmmaker, I’m used to making the film go on; and here the job was to make the story sometimes stop, to have another type of story that is only with the skin and senses and goes to another part of the brain and sensibility”), De Mey, an experienced dancer and choreographer, had to relearn those skills as they pertain to hands.

“It came little by little,” she said in French, “working with Gregory. But we didn’t do any gymnastic training. On the other hand, we did realize that when someone on the team had to be replaced – not only Gregory or me, but anyone on the whole team – it was important for everyone to be there: cameraman, dancer, lighting person. Everyone is as important as anyone else.”

Everything in the piece, she added, is quite fixed and precise, from choreography to camerawork and sound. “Because everything is filmed in real time, it’s down to the centimeter,” she said. There is no improvisation.

But there is spontaneity.

The show, after all, is “the making of a film,” as De Mey noted. “That’s the theater piece that the audience sees – the film projected on the screen connecting to the imaginary world we construct, the music, the play of memory.”

For Van Dormael, the miniature “toy” world they create takes him back to childhood – “When playing as kids, what I remember is that the toys were in our hands; I don’t see bodies, only hands and toys,” he said.

He adds: “It’s the funniest thing to see how people, when they see Michele Anne after the show, they look at her hands, not at her face. They want to touch her hands.”

”Kiss & Cry”

    • What: “Kiss & Cry, a “nano-dance theater piece from Charleroi Danses, Belgium
    • Where: Power Center for the Performing Arts, 121 Fletcher St.
    • When: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m.
    • How much: $26-$44, University Musical Society, Michigan League Ticket Office, (734) 764-2538, and online at

Read the original article at MLive!

This entry was posted in Dance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s