Tragédie – Touching the essence of the human kind

Teatros del Canal in Madrid hosted the company of the well-known French choreographer Olivier Dubois. He brought a new version of his decade-old performance Tragédie, subtitled New Edit, to the Spanish capital. The original premiere at the Avignon Festival in 2012 caused a great stir, not solely because of the completely naked dancers, but also because of the veracity and honesty of the performers’ expression. In this piece, Dubois set out to trace the footsteps of the human species, following the particular tragedy of our archaic existence, this time transposed to humans of the 21st century.

Tragédie. Photo: François Stemmer.

Tragédie. Photo: François Stemmer.

Josef Bartoš Author Josef Bartoš

Tragédie is characterised by the slow passage of time until the whole event turns into an apocalyptic image of madness, a ritual revelry of absolute surrender. From the very beginning, Dubois plays with light at the edge of minimal intensity, and it can be difficult at first to follow the action on stage with one’s eyes alone. The performers emerge from the darkness and disappear into it again, their silhouettes are left imprinted on the invisible space created by the light rim. Their nudity emphasises the shapes of their diverse bodies – thin, corpulent, tall, short, with Caucasian and Asian features, trained and loose, upright in posture or slumped, in short, anything you can think of. They march from back to front, turn sharply on the edge of the stage, and march back to where they came from. Their gait is characterised by a regular beat, which, at first, is not disturbed at all. It functions as a constant in our lives, a certainty that can be held on to even when we are lost in ourselves. More and more dancers appear on stage, the lines start to intermingle. Some performers pause for a moment to look back at the audience before continuing this machinery of movement. Whatever this seemingly innocent glance back means, we can be sure about one thing – on the other side of the barricade are the spectators, the outside observers, whose presence is not entirely welcome. And although Dubois stated in an interview for the newspaper El País that he doesn't care about the audience, he certainly takes it into account.

The choreographer is clearly trying the patience of the audience. The performers’ gait seems to be almost unbearable, the rhythm unchanging, the creator simply taking his time. Perhaps he is expressing the perseverance and resilience with which we walk towards a better future, but somehow along the way we lose our humanity, kindness, and openness, since what emanates from the performers is coldness, alienation, and detachment. The dancers' bodies became an army of empty shells, void of human souls. But it is also an engaging spectacle. There is a certain power in that rigidity that grabs hold of you and doesn't let go. And just when you think you can't take the machinery any longer, suddenly the whole structure starts to degenerate. Dubois breaks down the symmetry of his own choreography; these are movement deviations that grow in intensity. The freneticism, the madness, the disruption of the organic synergy, the perfectly built structure begins to crumble from its very foundations. It is as if Dubois were making it clear that today's society has not only shallow, superficial problems, but also ones that go deep to our foundations, and to solve them would mean to redefine our entire essence, our being in this world.

Tragédie. Photo: François Stemmer.

But when the whole system breaks down, we are still left with a little bit of hope. The dancers then reunite in a wild ritual display. The choreography contains fast spins, drops, suspending moments, with extremely active upper limbs leading the movement trajectory. For the first time, Dubois also disrupts the back-forward line of the movement, and the dancers move on a horizontal trajectory too. Interestingly, while everyone's dance exudes absolute choreographic synergy, each dancer modulates it slightly in their own way. Their individuality suddenly shines through the uniformity. The order of things brings freedom of expression and a lightness of being. At times, the performers seem obsessed with dancing, there is a great exhaustion that seems to give the whole event a touch of credibility and truthfulness. Especially when the stage flashes with strobe lighting and the audience can only see snippets of what is happening, one still has the impression that they are giving their all.

Tragédie was originally created in 2012, but 10 years later it still feels very relevant. It is not explicit, nor literal, which I consider to be this production’s greatest strength. On the contrary, Dubois manages to speak through the movement itself, “commenting on” the tragedy of the entire human race, the loss of deep experiences, empathy, emotions, and everything that makes us human. It feels as if we were all united by the collective experience of the same pain that we perceive unconsciously today and every day. The message of this piece is not at all positive, but that is why it can provoke a change in us, it can touch us deeply and speak to us on a level different to human language. It is a piece of choreography worth seeing.


Written from the performance of 16th December 2022 at Teatro del Canal, Madrid, Spain.


Tragédie, new edit
Choreography: Olivier Dubois
Performers: Esther Bachs Viñuela, Taos Bertrand, Camerone Bida, Steven Bruneau, Marie-Laure Caradec, Coline Fayolle, Karine Girard, Steven Hervouet, Sophie Lèbre, Aimée Lagrange, Sebastien Ledig, Matteo Lochu, Sarah Lutz, Nicola Manzoni, Mateusz Piekarski, Emiko Tamura, Mooni Van Tichel
Music: François Caffenne
Light design: Patrick Riou


Témata článku

Olivier DuboisTragédie

Teatros del Canal in Madrid