Review: Boris Charmatz -Flip Book - Tate Tanks

Performance: 27 & 29 October 2012
Reviewed by Germaine Cheng - Monday 1 October 2012

Flip Book, performed in 2012. Photo: Christophe Urbain

Reviewed: 28 September

For the late great choreographer Merce Cunningham , the human body and its endless movement possibilities held a wondrous fascination. And it is for this reason that he maintained that he had no interest in the narrative – the exhilarating, purely physical experience was all he sought.

Boris Charmatz’s Flip Book is thereby a true homage to Cunningham and his firm belief in the independence of collaborative art forms in the theatre. Taking the 300 pictures in David Vaughan’s 1997 book Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years, Charmatz has created a live flip book from a wide variety of images – from dancers performing and rehearsing to the pensive portrait of Cunningham that adorns the book’s cover.

These images are stripped of their context, and reinterpreted by Charmatz and his cast. I can’t help but feel that the elements of music and design have regrettably been lost in the process. Who can forget Andy Warhol’s silver pillows in Rainforest (1968) or Robert Rasuchenberg’s ruched-parachute costumes for Antic Meet (1958)? The sound in Flip Book is a mish-mash of Satie, techno punk and long-time collaborator John Cage’s voice – aptly varied and seemingly stopped and played at intervals determined by chance. However, by simply extracting the physical aspect of these pictures, Charmatz creates a compelling democracy among terpsichorean and pedestrian postures, essentially extracting the essence of Cunningham.

Charmatz and his five dancers, suitably clad in brightly coloured unitards – the signature Cunningham costume, tirelessly enact series of tableaux which comprise Cunningham’s immediately recognisable curves, twists and tilts. The men burst into lofty leaps, displaying shades of Cunningham’s own amazing ability to jump. The cast laugh heartily, tinker on the keys of an imaginary piano, look out into the audience quizzically and circle the stage with their arms outspread like wings of eagles.

Fifty extraordinary years encapsulated in fifty minutes – that is a tall order. Even more so if it is fifty years of constant movement. But interestingly, by basing it on its antithesis – the still photograph, Charmatz injects even more movement possibilities between the frames. Dancers undulate their elbows while their arms are held in the familiar fifth position above their heads, and one of them takes an atypical approach to fifth position in the feet by ascending precariously from sitting on the ground.

I can only imagine Cunningham would be intrigued.

This week at Tate Tanks, Nina Beier, Tue – Thu, FREE

Germaine Cheng is a graduate of the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance. She writes for English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word blog and contributes regularly to

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