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Vendetta Mathea, an American transplant in Aurillac, France, shared an excerpt of her new work, Water Soul, at the Downtown Dance Festival last Sunday. Since I was born and raised in France, it was exciting for me to identify and distill the influences of both the American and French cultures in Vendetta’s work.

Beginning in silence, in the midst of the city sounds, four dancers entered the stage in two separate color blocked groups: one comprising Mathea, the choreographer, and another young woman in black lace tops and jazz pants, and the other which included a young female and male dancer in yellow fishnet tops and leggings.

After first recognizing each other, the dancers then noticed the audience. They each represented different characters and were mimicking the mannerisms found in their observation of the crowd. From laughter to pain, all their feelings seemed to emerge from their gut as the torso initiated every movement. Though their dramatic reactions were silent, they built a momentum through which they progressively came together in a line and started reflecting their impressions collectively.

An electric guitar piece then initiated the beginning of a new segment with succinct duets made of sharp isolations. Mathea, in black, came forth and commenced a dance embracing the music as though it were rocking her soul. The three other dancers formed a circle around her, echoing her emotions. Through the dance, this group got closer to Mathea and the female dancer in yellow gave her a kiss, after which her movement softened, almost blushing from the kinetic energy. This modesty is reflective of the European style of modern dance as a whole and of this idea that the movements should look mapped out, almost effortless.

In a renaissance,  initiated by upbeat electronic music, the male dancer in yellow, started a solo through which he flexed one group of muscles after another to try to seduce the other women. Like Mathea, he paused, mimicking mannerisms of the stereotype he was representing. Raising his eyebrows and showing off his break dancing skills, he was putting on a show for his fellow performers as much as the audience. It reminded me of French hip hop choreographer Bianca Li. Her very first pieces, which were representative of the archetypes that made for chic Parisian streets, portrayed a group of people that were rarely shown in the genre. As a reaction to his performance, the women on stage laughed, awed, in a highly dramatic, slow motion fashion, harkening back to the beginning of the piece.

An electric violin track then prompted a fight between the two performers in yellow. Like comic-book heroes, they kicked and punched each other in the air while the dancers in black observed and dramatically “commented” on the action in silence. The duet evolved from a fight to a harmonious piece, bringing in the younger dancer in black. This scene was reminiscent of urban social dynamics in France, where people observe others fighting but just stand there gossiping about the action rather than taking part in it.

An oriental piece of music initiated a solo by this younger performer in black, who twisted and quickly changed directions with every movement. Little by little her movement came to an end and concluded the dance. This pattern once again, though evoking her sensual character, was reflective of movement trends in French hip hop, which is largely influenced by the Arabic culture and can be seen in other artist’s works such as choreographer Guillaume Lorentz.

What is particularly interesting about Mathea’s work is her unique ability to express such a range of responses through this common vocabulary while still providing a subtle and socially relevant commentary of modern French society from an American point of view. Her double vision made for a refreshing experience that really stood out at the Downtown Dance Festival.

Written by Alexandra Pinel

Alexandra Pinel is a choreographer, dancer and arts administrator from Paris, France. She graduated from George Washington University, in DC, with a BA in Dance and Art History with honors. Allie dances with Movement of the People Dance Company and for Amy Jacobus Projects and was a recipient of the Maida Withers Dance Construction Company Award for Innovation in Dance and a Luther Rice Research Fellowship to study dance in Berlin, Germany.
Most recently, Alexandra choreographed a music video for Chinese punk band Re-TROS and had her dance film for the anniversary of the Rite of Spring featured on NPR radio’s blog. Mrs Pinel works at the Harkness Center For Dance Injuries and for choreographer Luciana Achugar. She is also a member of the Junior Committee of Dance/NYC.