As a soloist and choreographer Pascal Benichou is well versed in the types of dialogue a dancer can share with an audience. In his current body of work , Benichou expands the conversational possibilities of a performance through his use of the camera, and the freedom it allows him as a dancer to work outside the formal confines of the theatrical venue. Through photographs his viewers are brought beyond the artificiality of the stage and enter into poignant moments where he surrenders flesh and blood to directly consort with the forces he discovers in nature. 


The Hudson Review 

Winter 2009 

KAREN WILKIN Art review At the Galleries 

Pascal benichou deals with the equivocal and the uncanny; he stakes out an unstable terrain between the recognizable and the otherworldly. Until recently, Benichou was known primarily as a gifted, versatile dancer and, in a very real sense, the works in “Of Spirit and Matter” were a series of performance pieces. In each of them, a beautiful naked men- Benichou himself, displaying his long-limbed, muscular dancer’s body-moved through verdant New England woods, rolling down hills, climbing up inclines, clambering on rocky outcroppings, changing positions in a shallow, rocky stream. 

The still photos presented several images of the protagonist at once, with some portions of each pale-fleshed figure blurred into near-transparency and other more sharply focused, against a crisply defined landscape of gray rocks, brown leaf mold, and green leaves. Sometimes the bodies were pressed together; at others, they formed disjunctive sequences. Surprisingly, the multiples views result neither from repeated exposures nor manipulation of the digital images, but are records of Benichou’s carefully timed movements, captured by long exposures. Experience and dancer’s discipline allow him to calculate ( more or less) the appropriate speed of movements, from position to position require to achieve the desired effect of clarity or transparency, continuity or separation, in the final image-hence the notion of performance. In “Of Spirit and Matter,” the blurring and multiplicity, combined with the nudity, cancelled the usual “slice of actuality” connotations of the photograph and moved us, instead, into the real of the fantastic. Yet, at the same time, we were reminded of the early days of photography: nineteenth-century tableaux that attempted to look like painting, and “spirit” photographs that supported to reveal the invisible mysteries of the afterlife. 

In the videos, Benichou’s methods became explicit. Continuous loops documented sequences in which he rolled down a slope and climbed back up, passing another version of himself, similarly engaged, and so on, as if revealing the intermediate stages of the still images. The resulting crowd of ghostly, Sisyphean figures moved endlessly , each in a slightly different , but elegant, way, each along a slightly different route. 

Yet Sisyphean isn’t the right word. There were no visible evidence of effort; and though we sensed the prickly reality of the setting, the translucent nudes were oblivious to scratchy twigs and rough rocks. Absorbed in their repetitive action, barely defined against the landscape, they were both literally and metaphorically disembodied. What ‘s most arresting about Benichou’s images is the way they obviously depend on contemporary technology but evoke an unexpected range of art historical precedents, from flashes of Michelangelo’s tumbling nudes in his Last judgment to the Pre-Raphaelites; the rocky stream in which Benichou moves with improbable ease suggested Gustave Courbet’s Vigorous landscapes, and more. 

The Phatory, a tiny “alternative” gallery on East 9th Street, near Tompkins Square Park, has been a reliable showcase of the provocative and unexpected since its inception. Benichou’s “Of Spirit and Matter” continued that tradition.