On the Brink


Metz, Lavoir du Pontiffroy

Video installation either in the form of a single video or a diptych of two videos on two screens
2 video loops, 16 mn 20.

You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, it’s time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
Baby, you’re on the brink.

The video On the Brink is constructed around one of the most famous songs in the history of musical comedy: Robert Wise’s Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music (1965). Played for a duration between 16 and 17 minutes, in keeping with the song’s title, the song ends with Charmian Carr (Liesl) and Daniel Truhitte (Rolf) exchanging a kiss after a very long duet performed at a frenzied pace.

Moving at dizzying speeds around the interior of a glass-sided gazebo lit by lightning and barraged by a constant screen of rain, the characters are likened to two automata spinning around inside of a music box. The creation of constant rhythmic interruptions helps reinforce the artificial feeling of their duet, which is already palpable due to the caricatural aesthetic codes of the musical comedy genre.

As a structural counterpoint to the lovers -head-to-head, which seemed to be leading to this end sixteen minutes earlier, the kiss – insofar as it is the point toward which the scene’s narrative components converge – puts the entire dance routine into perspective. Prefigured at the video’s beginning by the proximity of the characters faces to one another, the concretization of the kiss is, despite manifold opportunities, deferred over and again, to the point where the viewer’s expectations are regularly disappointed throughout the video.

The video contrasts the highly accelerated movements that characterize the entire dance sequence with the difficulty of realizing the amorous ritual, emphasized in the prelude, by making use of slow motion and playing on the length of time that has elapsed prior to its fulfillment. The kiss draws all its tender irony from this contrast between speed and slowness, as well as from the use of several variations on the original choreography in order to delay its consummation.

As it presents a reflection on the sentimental bends and turns of adolescence, On the Brink establishes a double logic of temporal distension (the artificial extension of a film excerpt) and contraction (the acceleration of an excerpt) – logics that reconfigure and replay the steps executed by the dancers, resulting in the alternating attraction and separation of their bodies. Similarly to how Liesl plays with a lock of Rolf’s hair at the beginning of the video, twisting it between her thumb and forefinger, and molds his face between her hands, the video works to persistently test the elasticity of the time. Both complicit in and excluded from the lovers interaction, the viewer is ushered into this double movement despite himself.

Updating the historical context of Robert Wise’s film, however, confuses our perspective on the dance. Consonant with young Rolf’s political inclinations – as he brings the Hitler Youth into The Sound of Music and chooses to sacrifice Liesl rather than his own convictions by denouncing her to his country’s authorities while she is making her escape -, the video discreetly echoes the new forms of seduction exercised by ideological extremists in Europe and the risks they represent to democracy. A study of desire, but equally of the loss of reason, On the Brink gravely draws viewers into a mechanism corresponding to the characters’disarray -a spinning dynamic likely to whisk them away like mere puppets.

The Disneyesque excess of European romantic codes as interpreted by all-powerful Hollywood and Richard Rodgers syrupy music, which nearly becomes irritating due to its repetition, underlines the ambivalent, artificial quality of the scene presented in this installation. Building on its deformations and exaggerations, On the Brink bring the Jungstorm to an update of Death and the Maiden, of which certain pictorial representations are proposed in several shots of the video, from Niklaus Manuel Deutsch to Hans Baldung Grien, and from Edvard Munch to Egon Schiele.

Spatializing the principles of an impossible encounter and of a shift, the presentation of the installation as a diptych generates an interplay between the projections of the video’s images on two screens. Each of the screens appears more closely associated with one of the two dancers, and, slightly offset from one another, they help materialize another rift to be arched, a new frontier.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet