Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Francois Rousseau and Julie Gardette
Where do the birds go?
Streamed premiere from Oslo home of Rousseau & Gardette
19 May 2020
For those of us of a certain age, porcelain birds on a wall just have to be flying ducks. This peculiarly British décor was Hilda Ogden’s legacy for my generation: she and Stan lived on “Coronation Street” and their plaster ducks were a regular feature of every Monday and Wednesday evening (that is, until they were replaced by Hilda’s “murial”). If it wasn’t Corrie then let’s blame The Kinks and their Ducks on the Wall song from the seventies!
Hilda’s ducks above the fireplace were always in flight but never going anywhere and a similar thought must have occurred to Annabelle Lopez Ochoa when looking at the small flock of white porcelain birds (not ducks) on the living room wall in the home of Francois Rousseau and Julie Gardette, husband-and-wife dancers at Norwegian National Ballet. The birds became the inspiration for the title of Ochoa’s first-ever choreography made by Zoom; thus, cocking a snook at lockdown by creating a brief work on two dancers in Oslo while sitting at home in Amsterdam. Truly, a Euro vision dance context!
A nearby painting had to be temporarily removed so as not to spoil the pattern of the dozen birds, seemingly caught in mid-swirl against the grey “sky” (aka wall). The work opens with the couple, identically dressed in black, seated on a white leather sofa, leaning towards each other in marital denial of social distancing, touching their noses and then the palms of their opposing hands. They push away and come back together, taking cues from particular chords in the opening bars of René Aubry’s contemplative Monday (from his 2014 album, Days).
The sofa is their comfortable stage, providing a screen to hide behind and a platform for much of their performance. To the right is a wall and on the left, a staircase leading out of view, the bannister providing a temporary barre. The smallness of the performance space and these stairs put me in mind of the Mercury Theatre, Ballet Rambert’s tiny historic stage and home in Notting Hill Gate until the 1980s.
Although the range of movement is necessarily limited by these severe spatial restrictions, Ochoa makes full use of every opportunity to provide the fullest range of options; solos, gestures in unison, partnered dance with lifts, even a twirl, and plenty of sensual touch. With one dancer on the sofa and another behind or lying on the floor in front, this furniture provides spatial perspective and layered levels and it also occasionally becomes a third “partner” offering a solid arm as a lifting prop or leverage and providing the context for myriad sculpted poses.
That these are two dancers comfortable with each other in their own living space makes this a work of palpable intimacy, much enhanced by the gentle informality of Aubry’s lazy music. There’s a comfortable informality to their poses; with his arms draped over the sofa’s back, knees and feet drawn up on the cushions, Rousseau could have been watching TV before they both burst into a final round of coordinated action, culminating in Jørund Langeggen’s close-up of their crossed hands fluttering, as if animating the wings of the birds behind them.
It is but a simple thing, barely five minutes’ long, but Where do the birds go? has purpose and it has history. In 2006, when Rousseau and Gardette were dancers at the Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam, they danced in Ochoa’s pas de deux, BEFORE AFTER, at the Fall for Dance Festival in New York; a choreography and a performance that was to open many doors for the young choreographer. The couple moved from Amsterdam to Norway, in 2009.
For added poignancy, Covid-19 and its repercussions of ending live performance all-around the world robbed Rousseau of a theatrical farewell for his recent retirement from Norwegian National Ballet. At their request, this experiment gave him the farewell performance he deserved and a global audience to enjoy it. Ochoa choreographed Where do the birds go? over five zoom sessions and it has proved to be so successful that she plans some more. Watch this space!