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Please be advised that there is a warning on this one

Lise Smith

If the filmmaker David Lynch were ever to make a contemporary dance piece for three Gallic performers, it would probably look and sound something like Maud Le Pladec’s Professor. Looming shadows, dancers disappearing through the curtains, slow-motion visual effects and an aurally uncomfortable soundtrack – all it needs is a dancing dwarf, and the Lynchian setting would be complete.

The piece is conceived as a physical translation of composer Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip. The soundtrack is aptly named – sliding strings and crashing guitars summon up an unpleasant hallucinatory experience, reflected in the dancing.Professor’s opening solo has dancer Julien Gallée-Ferré gesticulate, Mark Morris-like, to every sound in the score; flicking loose hands as if conducting some unseen orchestra, he seems to pluck sounds from the air, twitching his shoulders and slicing with his arms to the seemingly random noises of the score.

Professor is packed with visual references: Mathieu Montanier stretches his face into exaggerated cartoon-like expressions of joy and sorrow which he pauses, fast-forwards and repeats again like a malfunctioning video. The three performers duck in and out of the stage curtains recalling chase scenes in screwball comedy; dim lights shade the stage like the set of a classic noir, and the sense of psychological horror, in the claustrophobic lighting and bullying soundtrack, pervades throughout.

The dancers, all dressed in t-shirts and tuxedos, seem to substitute for and duplicate one another, one appearing from a curtain where another disappears. This unsettling doppelgangereffect comes to a crescendo towards the end when Tom Pauwels is repeatedly held back from escaping by his two alter-egos. The identity of the performers produces the sense that, despite his highly physical struggles to break free, the attempt will never succeed because it is Pauwels himself who is preventing his own escape.

Intense, oppressive and difficult to listen to, Professor is also at times humorous and strangely beautiful. There’s no question that the work is strongly conceived and well-crafted, successful in creating a deliberately uncomfortable atmosphere; but it was also a relief to wake up from this bad trip.

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