There are performances you see that just stick with you differently, change you as an audience member, and under special and rare circumstances, they can even change you as a person. BroadStage presented Dimanche by Company Focus & Chaliwaté on opening night this past Thursday at BroadStage and I have not stopped thinking of it since. Perhaps it is because it fits no one category; is it dance? Is it theater? Is it puppetry? Is it magic? Written and directed by Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, Sandrine Heyraud with Thomas Dechaufour, Shantala Pèpe, and Julie Dacquin, Dimanche shed light on the stubborn forces of both nature and humanity and gave us a comedic look at ourselves with captivating splendor.

"Dimanche" - Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company - Photo by Virginie Meigne

“Dimanche” – Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company – Photo by Virginie Meigne

The curtain opened to a toy-like miniature bus, working headlights, in a frozen landscape made up of both small props but reimagined curves, dips, and angles of the human body. Humans are, after all, the landscape of their own reality and imagination, and seeing this concept in play was thrilling and fascinating. As the bus came to a working stop, we immediately cut to three explorers riding in the bus, getting an inside picture of what a cross country trip truly looks like as they bopped up and down, listened to music, and rolled down the window to smoke. We even saw them manually move windshield wipers, hold the rearview mirror (complete with a swinging air freshener), and steering wheel as they navigated the snowy tundra of the arctic. The brilliant choreography of trying to shuffle around bodies or communicate a simple thought in a turbulent vehicle was movement at its finest. You’re immediately brought back to a cross country trip you took with your family, or the school field trip from 5th grade, or even a tumultuous weather predicament and can relate. With humor and witty drama, Dimanche put us in a time and a place we know, and yet, have never been to all at once.

Scene from "Dimanche" - Photo by Virginie Meigne

Scene from “Dimanche” – Photo by Virginie Meigne

The three wildlife reporters eventually establish that their documenting, not quite successfully, “Earth’s last living species: three wild animals on the brink of extinction” as multimedia additions were used in the performance. The cameraman drops his equipment, and as the stage goes black, we watch and see what the video equipment is recording under the ice caps of the arctic. With video sound by Jeff Levillain and Roland Voglaire, video footage by Tristan Galand, and video set construction by Zoé Tenret and Sébastien Munck, we slipped into an important agenda on climate control and carbon footprint. We heard and saw ice breaking and chipping, windstorms howling and breaking trees, and even a giant tsunami wave crashing onto earth’s surface of sand and dirt. We felt destruction, but also surrounded by responsibility for contributing to the horror.

"Dimanche" - Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company - Photo by Alice Piemme, Arts Hub

“Dimanche” – Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company – Photo by Alice Piemme, Arts Hub

The real skill of both Company Focus & Chaliwaté’s partnership with Dimanche was the ability to go from micro to macro in stage production with inanimate objects. With puppets created by Waw! Studios / Joachim Jannin and Jean-Raymond Brassine, we saw real mastery in construction. A massive polar bear and her cub sat on an ice cap, and even though you knew they were being manipulated by the performers on stage, the movement was realistic enough to also forget. Same with the next, soon to be extinct animal, of the stork visiting her baby’s nest. The ruffling of the feathers, the bending of the legs, even the flight patterns of the wings as they flap for momentum. I found myself on the verge of weeping, not because the portrayal of an apocalypse was destroying earth’s creatures, but because the performers were directly controlling each puppet with discretion and control. They did not necessarily hide themselves but were not out in the open either. In dark black clothing from the neck down, we understood the manipulation of each animal, the manipulation of helicopters, boats, and vans, but could forget just as easily that it was being handled by a human. This type of artistic comment on the human race was so profound that I am still coming to terms with the absurd delight of its genius.

Scene from "Dimanche" - Photo by Virginie Meigne

Scene from “Dimanche” – Photo by Virginie Meigne

As the wildlife reporters traveled from regions of extreme weather, we were also introduced to a family, simply living their life in a house they have made home. As a windstorm and tornado took hold of the area, a couple sitting down for an elaborate dinner tried ever so hard to keep things as normal as possible. With costuming by Fanny Boizard, the woman wore a floor length red sequin gown, while the man wore suit pants, a white button down, and untied necktie. With clever dramaturgy by Alana Osbourne, the couple, seemingly unaffected by the blowing leaves, wind, and debris coming in from stage right, tried to carry on with a Sunday dinner. They brought in a roasted bird, set the table, poured drinks in their glass, and it all went awry the longer they held fast to their traditional repetition. Eventually succumbing to the grave misfortune of the world ending, the pair’s arms and legs gave way to the blustering wind, as they slipped and fell, and held onto furniture legs and stairway banisters. The couple displayed a Buster Keaton like pantomime of slapstick humor and movement as every possible reach and grab for the table was undermined by the tornado winds outside of the home.

Scene from "Dimanche" - Photo by Virginie Meigne

Scene from “Dimanche” – Photo by Virginie Meigne

With all the incredible skill in both puppetry, movement, and acting, I think the real testament of Dimanche was the ability to trust an audience’s imagination for potential. With beautiful visuals, well-crafted chaos, and a potent story line, Dimanche displayed tragic consequences under a comedic umbrella. With a touch of make believe, the performance could be watched by all ages, all ethnicities, all religions, and shake each foundation equally. This exquisite performance showcased our past, and our future in present day light, and made us think about changing our own habits contributing to the pollution of the earth and ourselves.

To see the full season lineup at BroadStage, please visit their website.

To learn more about Company Focus, please visit their website.

To learn more about Chaliwaté, please visit their website.

Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Sicaire Durieux in scene from “Dimanche” – Photo by Virginie Meigne