Ex.Pgirl’s Paris Syndrome at HERE

Bertie Ferdman and Soomi Kim (photo by Julien Jourdes)

Wednesday night took us to HERE to see Ex.Pgirl‘s PARIS SYNDROME.

Founded in 2002, Ex.Pgirl is a dance theatre company led by Artistic co-Directors Bertie Ferdman and Suzi Takahashi. Its mission is to create original performance works that address cultural identity in today’s globalized community, featuring the talents of a diverse group of female performers of various nationalities and performance backgrounds. Dedicated to a collaborative development process, Ex.Pgirl works in close association with artists hailing from Japan, Argentina, United States, Peru, France, Korea, and Puerto Rico, who now reside permanently in New York.

PARIS SYNDROME explores the real-life phenomenon of the extreme culture shock experienced by some Japanese women when visiting Paris. Each year, a dozen or so 30-something Japanese women vacation in Paris, only to lose their minds. The culture shock is too much and they cannot reconcile their elaborate romantic fantasies of Paris with its gritty reality.

Ex.Pgirl uses a variety of techniques – comic scenes, songs, games, video interviews and dances – to create a movement theater pastiche exploring the phenomenon. With vignettes ranging from a game show which asks the audience trivia questions about French and Japanese culture to a movement piece choreographed to Serge Gainsbourg’s Bonnie and Clyde, PARIS SYNDROME moves quickly from idea to idea, from joke to joke and scenario to scenario. The performers are enthusiastic, energetic and appealing as they move from vignette to vignette and their “let’s put on a show” aesthetic can be winning – particularly during the audience participation parts.

Especially fascinating was a sequence in which the ensemble imagined a play about Marie Antoinette as performed by the Takarazuka Revue – a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe in which women play all roles in lavish, Broadway-style productions of Western-style musicals. This was the most instructive part of the show, illustrating the artificiality of cultural perceptions in a very heightened way.

While the quick pace and the playful performances keep audiences engaged and amused, they also can undercut the exploration. The vignettes are not tangibly connected, nor are they particularly cumulative. It feels like the same points are repeated several times and some of the points are too-obvious jokes playing on well-worn stereotypes. As a result, the overall production never quite coheres into something greater than the sum of its parts. PARIS SYNDROME is playful fun – like a high-concept variety show – but I left wanting a little more substance.

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