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Jack Anderson

Dancing Swiss Cowboys

Compagnie Phillipe Saire in Lonesome Cowboy." Photo by: erias.

"Lonesome Cowboy"
Compagnie Philippe Saire
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street , Chelsea
Through January 9, 2011; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; (212) 242-0800,; $10-39
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, January 9, 2011

We all know what guys are like. Choreographers, writers, and film-makers keep showing and telling us. Guys can be tough, bluff, and even violent, yet buried within them is a longing for tenderness, which struggles to emerge, even as they may be burying one another in violent encounters. After all, hugging and wrestling sometimes look similar. With the aid of five men from his Lausanne-based company, Philippe Saire choreographically preached this message once again in "Lonesome Cowboy." It's a message that may not tell the whole truth about masculine behavior, yet there's enough truth in it that, if told skillfully enough, it bears repeating. And the Swiss troupe did repeat it with skill, although without adding any fresh insights into it.

Despite the dance's title, no one wore chaps or Stetsons, although late in the piece they did put on jeans. At the start, however, they wore severe costumes by Isa Boucharlat that resembled uniforms. As might be predicted, given those costumes, they moved stiffly across a stage covered with what Sylvie Kleiber's designs and Laurent Junod's lighting made resemble gravel or glinting glass shards. (The material was actually ground-up rubber.)

Dancing through various costume changes, including a bare-chested sequence in kilts, the men played games, quarreled, pointed imaginary guns, sat on a ledge swigging from bottles and, as might be expected, wrestled, all to a sound score by Christophe Bollondi that matched every choreographic mood. Much of the choreography was strenuously athletic, and there was one exciting sequence in which the men played what seemed an inscrutable version of soccer with an invisible ball, punctuated by cries of "Touché" and congratulatory hugs. In contrast, an episode in which men, looking like janitors, swept the floor with a lyrical grace suggested that Saire wished to affirm the dignity of ordinary labor. However, an electronic explosion that set everyone racing in panic looked obviously contrived: it was the sort of effect one could easily predict in a production like this.

Too much of "Lonesome Cowboy" held the attention not with any fresh dramatic or emotional insights, but because of the skill of its performers: Philippe Chosson, Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, Matthieu Guénégou, Michaël Henrotay Delaunay, and Mike Winter. These guys were good dancers and because Saire made them look like good sports, watching them was a good way to spend an hour.

But only an hour! That left the evening seeming insubstantial. But if Saire had made "Lonesome Cowboy" longer, he might well have made it duller. What sort of work could have filled the program effectively without stretching it to Wagnerian lengths? Back in Lausanne, Saire reportedly has women as well as men in his company. What's his choreography for them like?

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