THOUGH IT MAY only have to do with the early morning hour, Maguy Marin is a tad grumpy. "Nobody hears anything anymore!" she exclaims over the phone with a burst of Gallic consternation. "We have a lot of things to listen to but there's too much noise and we can't hear what is important."
Forging biting social commentary out of humanity's shortcomings has made this French choreographer a major artistic force on both sides of the Atlantic for some 20 years. This Tuesday at Northrop Auditorium, Marin's company will perform RAMdAM, a wry glimpse into the personal alienation spawned by our wired times. Techno-isolation seems a logical thematic step for a dancemaker whose repertory ranges from 1981's "Babel Babel," an early critique of our cultural chaos, to the fanciful "Groosland," an act of aesthetic anarchy led by ballerinas wearing bloated, dumplinglike costumes.
RAMdAM began its life as two separate works which became one mostly by an accident of timing. After "Ram" premiered at the Festival de Danse à Cannes, Marin had only a few weeks to prepare "Dam" for the Biennale Nationale de Danse du Val-de-Marne. As a result, the second piece evolved into a continuation of the first, with each half retaining a separate, yet complementary, personality. "The first part is very dynamic and very strict, with people dressed in suits. The second part is more human," explains Marin, adding, "The first part is like a road with people going very fast, and the second is a quiet place."
The tyranny of language drives RAMdAM, which means "tumult" in French. The dancers appear as dronelike office workers who yak tirelessly into microphone headsets. An undiscriminating mix of French, English, gibberish, and bodily noises serves as their main form of verbal interaction. The subject matter ranges from the news of the day to pop philosophy. Denis Mariotte's score, performed live, underlines the desperate search for understanding. The result is an altogether bleak world sagging under the weight of accumulated information (though a sardonic viewpoint rescues the evening from seeming like drudgery). In the end, Marin suggests, our very life force is waging a battle with technology. And at this point, she is reticent about declaring the winner.
If these descriptions are flavored with drama, blame the 47-year-old Marin's youthful dissatisfaction with ballet technique. While performing in the Ballet of Strasbourg, she became enamored by theatrical games and improvisation offered at the nearby National Theater school. "Dance was not enough for me," she recalls. "The voice is as important as moving." By the 1970s Marin had formed her own experimental theater group and, despite a stint with Maurice Béjart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century, remained undeterred in her desire to move beyond traditional parameters of movement. In 1978 she established a company in a Paris suburb; today the well-supported troupe occupies a cultural center near Lyon.
Now recognized as a leading voice in the French new wave, Marin is often mentioned in the same breath with Germany's Pina Bausch, an artist who shares a similar, and exciting, contempt for boundaries. "Today I feel the need to work cooperatively with other dancers, choreographers, and musicians," Marin observes. "I need to brainstorm with people who see the world differently [from] me, to celebrate...the pleasure of the game of creation."
RAMdAM plays Tuesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Northrop Memorial Auditorium; 624-2345.