In this subtle capture of Giséle Vienne’s extraordinary dance performance, Crowd, the first shot is of a woman’s muscular calves caked in mud above sparkling sneakers, as she moves in slo-mo across the stage with a faraway look in her eyes. There’s an immediate feeling of familiarity as 14 other dancers in rave-ready outfits converge: You’ve been to this party and you’ve danced with these people, perhaps even spent your life moving alongside them, even though you’ve never met.
Crowd is a glacial yet exhilarating work choreographed by Vienne and documented/directed with elegance by Caroline Detournay and Paulina Pisarek, who filmed it over two live performances in 2017 and 2018. It depicts a night both exhausting and illuminating, slowing the dancers to a crawl and reveling in all the excitement and complexities of an indelible night out. Bodies move as if in rewind or fast-forward, reliving moments while skipping through the high- and lowlights.
The camera zooms in on individual interactions within a teeming mass, accumulating significance through tiny details—whether a Norma bag that gives a hint as to the location, a bloodied nose, a banana devoured, a moment of gay panic, collars pulled and clothes discarded. A narrative of unrequited desire gets colored in as the night goes on and inhibitions lift. The movement is so slow, juxtaposed with music that’s so fast, that it gives you time to absorb the entire cast of characters and their range of emotions as they exchange meaningful looks with the air of friends reunited on a dancefloor.
As the dancers contort with desire, pleasure, and pain, outstretching their arms and tilting their heads back in (on?) ecstasy, there’s an unmistakable sense that they’re marionettes—not unexpected, given that Vienne’s background includes time at a prestigious French puppetry school. There are also thrilling moments when it seems like the dancers momentarily transcend their puppeteer’s controls.
It all plays out against a playlist of electronic music classics compiled and mixed by the dearly-departed Peter Rehberg of Editions Mego, a playlist that leans heavily on the spacescapes of Underground Resistance and achieves lift-off with the appearance of tracks like Drexciya’s “Wavejumper” and Manuel Gottsching’s “E2-E4,” while the timeless ticking clock of Global Communication’s “14:31” provides a soft landing.