Pascal Rambert’s A (MICRO) HISTORY OF WORLD ECONOMICS, DANCED is, I gather, a work of some fluidity, as it incorporates the stories of a changing array of dancers, many of them local to the space in which it is presented, in the context of a world changed by the crisis of 2008. All artworks change over time, if only due to the audiences that receive them, but this one builds changeability into its basic aesthetic. When first conceived of, the European phase of the Great Recession was at its most intense, and perhaps the result reflected more urgency and desperation than I saw on Friday night at La MaMa, which presented the French choreographer’s show in collaboration with PS122 and the French Institute Alliance Française’s CROSSING THE LINE festival. It was enormously entertaining, even effervescent, especially given the seriousness of its subject matter, full of color and vivacity. It shares with a lot of French cinema the quality of being carefree despite the fact that it is about persons with cares.
The dance is built around an admittedly less than comprehensive, if nonetheless informative, lecture on economic history that commences with the founding of Lloyd’s of London, links up Adam Smith’s philosophy of moral sentiment with his more famous WEALTH OF NATIONS, moves on to Keynes, gets to Marx a little later, and delivers a tabloid history of the foreclosure crisis. The topic of value, and why some objects and activities have more or less of it, is the central philosophical question it poses.
Here Rambert addresses his own vocation, and that of his performers: is what a performer delivers on stage of less value relative to a commodity simply because “it can’t be hoarded”? The moral answer seems to be one thing and the practical economic one another. And what of the conflict between market value, which is based on supply and demand, and financial value, which is speculative? Such, at least, are the queries raised by the dancers, who bring forward items of value in their own lives, ranging from stuffed animals to certificates of academic achievement, the which when displayed together look like goods in a rather impoverished tag sale.
The whole is thoroughly likable, and not at all polemical; it’s not going to convert a devotee of Hayek to Keynesianism or a Marxist to capitalism; its ideology leans leftward because it ironizes financialization, not because it propounds a clear critique of it, or, much less, proposes a way to go forward. Certain paradoxes and economic riddles are exposed, and it is full of zest, good humor, and affection. It is lacking, probably by design, in rigorous analysis, but as an event that one watches with pleasure and interest it is perfect.