By Lucy Komisar
The best production I saw at the 2018 Avignon Theater Festival was “Dance ˜N Speak Easy,” a stunning work by Wanted Posse set in the U.S. 1930s prohibition era. The mood is swagger, the language is hip hop, the undercurrent is aggression.
The dancers are mostly black and the choreographer Njagui Hagbe and director Philippe Lafeuille play off stereotypes even to the zoot-suited brimmed hats of the time. This is not the hip hop you will see on the streets. The dancers are accomplished. The troop is well known in France.
The characters are hard-drinking, they throw around booze bottles. One shows off a leather coat and his muscles, strutting to a frenetic beat. They do twisting acrobatics. They are quick to anger and fight. A police car will arrive.
The dance moves from hip hop to the Charleston to Breakdance and even the Lindy.
A lady in a shimmering sheath appears, and they move in slow motion after her. Now, it‘s cabaret. She sings, “Why don‘t you do right like some other men do?” Jessie Perot has a good cabaret voice.
But lest you think she‘s just a sexy addition, she returns shortly in pants and top, trading heels for sneakers and joins the hip hop. You realize now this is a new style of modern dance. And how accomplished the dancers are. Perot does a funny “Betty Boop: Boop boop de do,” and a couple of the guys fight over her.
The music is sometimes surreal synthesizer, other times plaintive blues. We hear Miles Davis and James Brown. When the horns move to a fast boogie, the dancers follow in double time. They do upside down splits, with attitude. The jazz carries us. Perot is good at a fast “Hit the Road Jack.”
The dancers are all excellent, but I especially liked the impressive acrobatic movements of Martin Tha¯.
“Dance ˜n Speak Easy.” Choreographed by Njagui Hagbe, directed by Philippe Lafeuille. Compagnie Wanted Posse, Thé¢tre du Préau, Coll¨ge de la Salle, Avignon OFF, Avignon. July 6-29, 2018.