Tenney’s Homage to Delerue

Even while neo-romantic film composer Georges Delerue illustrated the dramas being played out on the screen, he invested his scores with layers of half-remembered emotions. So when we think we know what is going on, our subconscious memory is responding on a deeper, mysterious level.

At its best, “je me souviens. . . I remember,” Susan Tenney’s homage to Delerue, choreographed to his music, also evokes layers of hidden memory while it narrates everyday scenes. One of the dancers, Cynthia Yank, is a “real” little girl, not a small adult pretending to be a child! Somehow having a child onstage helps us recall our own childhood.

I was fascinated by the most recent excerpt, which I saw in rehearsal at the Princeton Ballet School of American Repertory Ballet in June. Tenney will present this and other excerpts on Saturday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. at Florence Gould Hall of the French Institute Alliance Francaise, 55 West 59th Street, between Madison and Park, in Manhattan.

This opens with six dancers (Naoko Cojerian, Yoshie Driscoll, Gary Echternacht, Fanny Marmayou, Anya Kalishnikova, and Pam Pisani) circling their arms, tick tock style. Interrupted by a seventh, Alexandra Fredas, they join her in lyrical celebration.

Then, with the leisurely detail of a Fred Rogers episode, the little girl watches her grandfather’s mimed shaving ritual, followed by their carefree romp. Preparations for the dad’s birthday involve all the usual family aggravations and rivalries, but it ends up being a memorable and happy time in this family’s life.

Things get unpacked, and objects take on meaning. The mother, Cojerian, examines the contents of a box and with unhurried pleasure explains each item to the child. The grandparents (Echternacht and Driscoll) unpack a satchel and lay out the significant objects of their lives. For the man, it is a shirt and soldier’s hat. For the woman, it is a book, a stuffed frog, and a string of pearls. They cavort and court in an outpouring of love and delight.

Together they pull out a long red banner, swooping and swirling it before they walk on it, down the aisle. Suddenly the woman panics and runs away but, gathering her courage, returns and they start over, down the ribboned path, gathering the ribbon behind them like a cloak or shroud.

It is the child’s turn to leave. She too tries to run back but is urged onward and passes under the arch made by the ensemble.

Samantha Gullace, the child’s adult self, enters with a red envelope. In a lyrical emotion-filled solo, she reveals all the facets of her love-hate relationship with the envelope’s contents. She stands behind the child, who carries the satchel with the remnants of her grandparents’ lives. Carefully the child takes the necklace out, stands on the chair to see herself in the mirror, the same mirror that her grandfather used for shaving, and puts the necklace on. Behind her, her grown up self mimes the same. Then she takes the stuffed frog out of the satchel and sits down, pensive.

Susan Tenney’s dances evoke hidden layers of emotion; she is going to be the Frank Sinatra of George Delerue’s music.

Delerue said his musical goal was “to reach out to other human beings as rapidly as possible, to go straight to the heart.” This rendition of “je me souviens” truly went straight to my heart, leaving me awash in my own forgotten memories.

Photo of Samantha Gullace by Leighton Chen. Save the Date invitation photo by Elliott Gordon. Invitation design by Danny Garber, dannyrome designs.

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