“There are those who have disappeared. Those we never see again. There are those we once met and whom we never think of again. Those we’ve loved and then forgotten. And the ones we think of every day.”
Those are the ordinary opening spoken words of Charleroi Danses’ “Kiss & Cry,” which ArtsEmerson has brought to the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Yet “Kiss & Cry” is anything but ordinary. The love child of two Belgians, dancer-choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey and filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael, it is a film, a theater piece, a dance, a puppet show, a poem, a musical, and a meditation. In the course of 90 minutes, it flashes back to what happened to a woman when she was 12: The brakes went on in a crowded train, and her hand touched, for 13 seconds, that of a 14-year-old boy whose face she cannot recall and whom she never saw again. It is dense, absorbing, disturbing, and ravishingly beautiful.
What you see on the Cutler Majestic stage is a film that is screened as it is being shot. Everything is reduced in size, as if reduced by memory. At either end of the stage are miniature sets on long tables, with miniature creatures and people. Downstage center, a toy train runs on an oval track surrounding half-timbered houses and a church. The train has tiny cameras inside, so that when you look at the screen at the back of the stage, you feel you’re on board, rushing toward love, or away from it. Throughout the evening, your attention is torn between the making of the film, as the ensemble runs around wielding cameras and manipulating sets, and the film itself.
The dancing is done by the hands of De Mey and Grégory Grosjean. Their fingers act as legs, naked and seductive, individually expressive. They mime a beating heart, a swimmer, a tarantula. They make love; sometimes it looks more like sexual assault. They ice skate. (The show takes its name from the “kiss and cry” area, where figure skaters sit and await their scores.)
Most of all, they touch. The score ranges from Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” to “Summertime,” “Les feuilles mortes,” and Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Toby Regbo narrates, in English, the history of our heroine’s five loves, one of which prompts the response “Some love affairs can be like a cheese grater: great for cheese, useless for anything else.” He tells an affecting story. But when the hands of De Mey and Grosjean are talking, words are superfluous.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@ gmail.com.