Transformation is at the heart of Xavier Le Roy’s Self Unfinished, an influential work that the French choreographer created in 1998 in collaboration with visual artist Laurent Golding. Le Roy brought the solo to life again in MoMA’s mausoleumlike atrium as the final offering [Feb. 2–6] in the “Performance Exhibition” series. This was the only performance that had reserved seating, on risers at one end of the space. The event took place at 5:30, closing time, and was at first accompanied by the thunderous cacophony of the exiting crowd. Over the next hour the noise slowly diminished until the only sound was the whispered whirring of the building’s climate-control systems.
Self Unfinished started innocently enough, with Le Roy seated, his arms resting on a table in front of him. He slowly turned his head from one side to the other, then raised each arm in small jerking motions. Eventually he stood and moved in robotic fashion, accompanying himself with mechanical noises. He returned to the table, bent forward over his outstretched arms, then slowly rose. He repeated this series of movements at points throughout the performance, which divided the work into sections and gave it rhythm and structure.
Le Roy is a tall, thin man who seems all arms and legs. His physique came to the fore in the next segment, when he removed his shoes, loose-fitting shirt and jeans to reveal a shift of stretch fabric that he pulled up over his head and arms. From that point, the work became far more provocative than it had been. Le Roy bent forward, placing his hands on the floor, and suddenly legs looked like arms, arms like legs; there was no head, just weird body parts, all in the wrong places. This disorientation became even more intense when Le Roy removed all his clothing and pretzeled himself into shapes that can only be compared to the grotesques of Hieronymus Bosch. Le Roy struggled around the space in various contorted formations, interrupted by returns to his seated position at the table. Finally he stood, put on his clothes, turned on a boom box playing pop music, and exited.
Self Unfinished is an early example of Le Roy’s continuing concern with questions of the materiality of the body, transformation and perception. Here he also takes on the issue of whether the human form can ever escape identification, which has long haunted artists concerned with the body and movement. Self Unfinished points to another question at a time when a number of artists are performing works from their early careers. Is Self Unfinished repertory, revival or restaging? The answer would seem to lie in Le Roy’s own body, which is assuredly not the same as it was 13 years ago. To the degree that the body is in constant transformation, every performance is a new work.
Photo: Xavier Le Roy performing his 1998 Self Unfinished, dance performance at MoMA, 2011.