Entering the Esplanade Recital Studio at three in the afternoon for Echoa by French dance company Arcosm, it is a mainly young audience. Students dressed in their school uniforms are already seated and buzzing excitedly while their teachers steal a sigh of relief. Toddlers sit with their parents, in awe of the performance set that contrasts our green comfortable seats with its steel frames, different percussion instruments and wooden planks. The few adults in the audience scatter themselves around, scrolling through their phones patiently while waiting for the show to begin.
Then as the lights dim, one child started crying and calling for attention, making me wonder how the performance is going to last.
However, my doubt is thankfully unfounded as all voices hushed once a single spot follows Emmanuelle Gouiard as she climbs up the highest platform, back-facing us with her toned arms gently resting against her head. Resuming a classical pose of typical Greek sculpture, her lean figure moves together with the soothing music of percussionists Camille Rocailleux and Mathieu Ben Hassen. Thomas Guerry joins in this sense of calmness, lifting and supporting Emmanuelle as she leaves the platform and strikes ballerina poses in the air. Lithe limbs drawing in the air, giving the music a physical form. This is no surprise since contemporary dance does have that reputation of grace and poise — gestures and movements that flow through space and time.
This is the moment where the music speeds up, taking up a more playful rhythm where the beats become irregular, louder and seduce the body into moving in a more aggressive manner. Movements cutting the air with clean precision and decisiveness; staccato to contrast the legato just seconds ago. Lights shift from welcoming warm tones into a harsh red, an obvious indication that this is not a typical contemporary dance performance and it might do one good to throw all preconceived expectations out of the studio door.
Echoa is an hour-long performance that successfully balances the aspects of dance, music and comedy effortlessly. Theatrical in nature and a delight to experience, it is entertaining and full of surprises for everyone in the audience. Students are giggling, toddlers are chortling while the adults sniggered every now and then. I find myself alternating between laughter and fascination at what is unfolding in front of my eyes.
Playfulness is a big aspect of this performance, and can be said to be the quality that holds the entire performance together. From their big stage presence to facial expressions, the four performers engage the audience with their buffoonery. Their openness and generosity in sharing that energy with us invite our imagination to go wild with their never-ending antics. Although seated in the recital studio, I am transported to a seaside for some fishing and a cafe for a short rest that morphed into a beatboxing session. The utilitarian set becomes a playground of possibilities — my mind the puppet, the performers my puppet master who leads the journey.
The accessibility of the work goes beyond age and generation as well, effectively breaking down any barriers between performers and audience, creating a shared world where everybody has a space of their own.
However, it is the gradual blurring of distinction between percussionists and dancers that captured my attention right from the beginning. Percussionists Camille and Mathieu start off with the instruments but eventually joined in the dance choreography. Dancers Emmanuelle and Thomas find themselves making sounds through their footwork and this grew into a full symphony of breath, voice and various body parts. The binaries unravel and we witness the organic nature of how movement and sound can become one. Working in synergy, the four of them become their very own instruments and gestures of self-expression.
This brings me back to the two questions posed within the synopsis for this performance as part of da:ns Festival 2019: How does a percussionist dance? What is the sound of a dancer?
I think my personal answer will be every possible gesture and potential of the human body. Just as Echoa shows us how much can be explored and done with just themselves alone, and with each other. The binary of music and dance comes across as artificial in this performance where both marry into a combination that is so natural and organic, it is strange to even think of them as two separate parts.
And as the performance wraps up, the toddlers in the audience started mimicking them and using their breath to make music. I smiled, for it feels like an encore of sorts, a response piece from the very audience members Echoa has touched and brought joy to this Friday afternoon.