London Fields played host this weekend to 'Transports Exceptionnels', a remarkable encounter between a svelte French dancer and a 13-tonne digger
The symbiosis between man and machine has long been a source of cinematic curiosity. Think of Fritz Lang's ‘Metropolis’, Kubrick's ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, the ‘Terminator’ series, and, more recently, ‘The Transformers’ or this summer’s blockbuster, ‘WALL-E’. Freshest in the memory, Pixar’s cute little waste collector was claimed in aid by many parents on Saturday, desperately trying to find ways to keep their tiny offspring from wandering off across London Fields.
I don’t think that the 13-tonne star of ‘Transports Exceptionnels’ really had much in common with ‘WALL-E’, other than four wheels and a yellow body, but it kept a few toddlers watching, just in case.
'Transports Exceptionnels’ is a 20-minute duet between a svelte, smartly dressed Frenchman and a Komatsu excavator
‘Transports Exceptionnels’ is a 20-minute duet between a svelte, smartly dressed Frenchman and a Komatsu excavator. Before you think I’ve gone quite bonkers let me go further by saying that it’s a remarkably romantic affair: made all the more so on this occasion by the setting sun streaming through the trees of Hackney's London Fields on a glorious Autumnal afternoon; doubly enhanced by the smoldering, tormented mezzo-soprano voice of Maria Callas singing two of her most spine-tingling arias (‘Printemps Qui Commence’ from Saint-Saëns’ ‘Samson et Dalila’ and ‘Mon Couer S’Ouvre à ta Voix’ from Massenet’s ‘Le Cid’).
The creative team here had no need for animation to suggest the Komatsu’s human tendency; the digger’s long arm, flexing at the elbow, extended to caress and gently scratch Phillippe Priasso’s head and when he was lovingly held, curled up, inside the bucket-hand, it had the same effect as when King Kong cradled Fay Wray. But passion also turned to anger when the same bucket thumped the ground petulantly as Priasso turns away.
When he was lovingly held, curled up, inside the bucket-hand, it had the same effect as when King Kong cradled Fay Wray.
Dominique Boivin’s choreography makes every diverse use of the excavator’s limited range of movement to achieve this extraordinary pas de deux; he has the arm circling in sweeping merry-go-round movements; extended and folded in; or rising high with Priasso standing erect on the bucket or dangling from its lip.
The performance courts danger across every major bullet point from construction’s health & safety black list: Priasso risks falling from height, or being crushed under the excavator’s moving wheels (especially when he is dancing on them, as they turn); and there are moments when the hidden driver – Eric Lamy – must be unsighted, unaware of exactly where the Komatsu’s human partner is.
The real achievement of this remarkable work is in this clever juxtaposition of the precise, carefully crafted movements of the dancer and the unseen hero in control of the machine. But, when all is over, it’s still the excavator that gets the loudest applause. “Go, Wall-e, go”, said the boy next to me. “Perhaps, Bob the Builder’s driving it?” said his dad.