Michèle Ann De Mey has been choreographing for more than three decades, but she took on an entirely new challenge with the 2011 piece "Kiss and Cry": designing dances exclusively for hands.
That's only one unconventional element of the thoroughly idiosyncratic "Kiss and Cry," which the Belgian choreographer will perform with filmmaker and co-creator Jaco Van Dormael this weekend at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. Dancers perform the hand ballets on a miniature set onstage, while a small crew films the dance to create a film in real time.
"The public see nine people onstage, and these nine people do in front of the audience's eyes the rendition of a movie," De Mey says. "This movie is projected on a screen, so you see at the same time the fabrication, the making of and the production of the fiction film on the screen."
The show considers themes of love, loss and memory, exploring one woman's remembrances of five of her former lovers as she waits alone at a train station. De Mey says she and Van Dormael developed the piece by inviting friends over and trying out hand dance ideas on their kitchen table. She says they decided to use one male hand and one female to tell five love stories, representing the five fingers.
"I think hands and arms is important," she says. "It's the beginning of a movement and sometimes the movements (follow) after the hands and after the fingers, in a way."
Recognizable songs by artists from Vivaldi to Sinéad O'Connor form the soundtrack, and narration fleshes out the story. "Kiss and Cry" has been presented in numerous countries, always in the local native tongue rather than translated or subtitled. De Mey says audiences often assign more localized meanings to the show's broad themes, particularly in politically troubled areas such as Chile and South Korea.
"You feel, really, sometimes the impact of the memory of the country we play in," she says. "We don't tell a political (story). The story is not about that. But because we speak about memory and disappearance ... this resonance is possible."
Michael Kondziolka is the director of programming for the University Musical Society, which is bringing "Kiss and Cry" to Ann Arbor. He says he followed the piece with great curiosity for two years, but after seeing it in Paris last summer he was sold.
"You're trying to make sense of these ballets that are being performed by fingers, which at first sounds ludicrous or silly," Kondziolka says. "But then they take on this power and gravity, and you really become a believer in these fingers as dancers."
Kondziolka says "Kiss and Cry's" unique presentation gives audiences an unusual choice.
"I think the audience has to choose what they want their experience to be, or where they find the art in the experience," he says. "Is it more in watching these people create it, or is it in seeing this beautiful finished image?"
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
'Kiss and Cry'
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
121 Fletcher, Ann Arbor