When is hand flapping appropriate? According to those who tried to teach our son « quiet hands » such behavior is socially unacceptable. The ombromane however, elevates the fluid movement of his hands to an art form called shadowgraphy. Coupled with a musician whose fingers seem to fly over the keyboard renders les quatre mains a poetic art performance. Philippe Beau conceived Les Ombres Errantes to music by Francois Couperin and performed with pianist Iddo Bar-Shai at the Auditorium du Louvre on Saturday October 8.
Beginning with Les Ombres Errants or Wandering Shadows, the pianist played 16 miniatures chosen from Couperin’s four volumes for harpsichord published between 1713-1730. Rather than perform the music chronologically, Mr. Beau selected the keyboard pieces to construe a story. Producing whimsical images with a play of hand shadows, he literally shed light on the composer’s picturesque titles. Each short piece was like a lyrical poem that spoke directly to me with my non-verbal son. People on the autism spectrum are often perceived as being locked within themselves. At one point the ombromane placed a birdcage in front of the light source so that it appeared as though the pianist was imprisoned. A profile of his own face behind a “hand-made” mask and other images further expressed isolation. The interpretation of L’ame en Peine in complete darkness cloaked the audience in a somber mood until the magician’s light reappeared. His fingers entwined and shifted (our hearts with them) to reveal a mother bird feeding her baby in a nest then morphed into a large hand nurturing a small one. Symbols of liberation such as a boat moving across water emerged from the shadows illustrating a dance-like succession of suites. The final piece was a repetition of the first while all of the « characters » paraded onstage to complete the cycle. Philippe Beau finished by projecting the shadow of his hands on the ceiling inviting spectators to lift their gaze in hope.
My son and I were mesmerized as the ombromane’s flowing hand gestures and a single source of light animated the screen accompanied by the pianist. Watching the feathered creatures take flight to Le Rossignol en Amour reminded me how my husband distracted our son from unpleasant situations, in the hospital for instance, by fluttering his hands while whistling an air from Prokofiev. Pierre et le Loup is still a favorite to calm him down or meet him halfway in his own language of frantic flapping evocative of the bird escaping the wolf. We observed the therapeutic effect of music on our son at an early age and have been to many concerts but this was our first time experiencing the art of shadows.
This was the first of six concerts en famille, family friendly concerts for ages 8 and up, in the 2016-17 program at the Louvre Auditorium. Lasting approximately one hour they enhance the young visitor’s experience by relating to a particular exhibit. Couperin’s music is evocative of the fluency and grace associated with dance, the perfect accompaniment for the inaugural weekend of Le Corps et Mouvement. My next post will be about the exhibit Body in Movement –Dance at the Museum in the Petite Gallery at the Louvre.
While there were no particular adaptations that might categorize this event as autism-friendly, the Louvre accommodates its guests with special needs in a continuing effort to be more inclusive. The reduced price for the concert is 6 euros and the auditorium is accessible. Read the practical information at the bottom of Louvre 101 to learn more.