French choreographer Philippe Decouflé puts entertainment above all else when constructing his shows, including any narrative sense whatsoever. So Contact, unsurprisingly, is a whirling, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink melange of dance, theatre, comedy, film, song, circus skills and illusion, which jumbles up Faust, classic Hollywood musicals and the work of Pina Bausch among its many reference points. Just when you think you might have started to have a clue what on earth is going on, Decouflé and his diverse troupe lob another curveball… the only thing to do, really, is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Contact is named in homage to Bausch’s Kontakthof and there are many nods to the German tanztheater queen here, from the mix of ages and shapes of the multitalented cast and their confessional asides to the audience, to the flashes of humour and the instantly recognisable choreographed procession snaking across the stage in tight precision.
Much as Bausch’s work adopts a collage-like structure, Contact offers up a tumbling sequence of tableaux, loosely linked by the idea of a group of performers taking on the story of Faust, with Decouflé veteran actor Christophe Salengro as a M Hulot-like main character, bumbling benignly as he’s tempted by Stéphane Chivot’s Mephistopheles to sign on the dotted line.
Beautifully executed aerial strap and rope routines plucked straight from the circus blend with (among other things) roller-skating angels, ironically silly ‘magic hand’ and hypnosis interludes, kaleidoscopic projected visuals, a whirling-dervish-like display, a protracted sequence where a mathematical definition of God is calculated while the performers wear increasingly outrageous headgear, a West Side Story homage mixing live and filmed elements, and flashes of Fred Astaire, the Nicholas Brothers and Busby Berkeley.
There are choral elements and rock opera moments, led by singer and multi-instrumentalist Nosfell and Pierre Le Bourgeois, and a dazzling, sequin-tastic array of flamboyant costumes, which, among other delights, allows for men in skirts and heels and women in Bauschian long dresses. The louche feel of a polyamorous pile-up pervades the stage, varnished with a wry Gallic sense of humour.
But the lack of a sustained narrative drive makes this 1hr 40mins show seem pretty long and rather desperately in need of some pruning as its array of visually arresting scenes starts to look increasingly scattershot and baffling. It’s undoubtedly fun in Decouflé’s world… but you do start to wish someone would hold your hand through it for a while.