Spark & gasoline
Despite her husband’s entreaty, Madame Toffea can’t help but dance. For six days and nights, her limbs convulse and move in all directions, she taps the floor of her bloody feet, her arms swing and writhing at the edge of the joint rupture, her face deformed by pain.
Its burden spreads, 50 and 500 unfortunate join her in her convulsions, plus a narrow street of Strasbourg escapes the show of macabre dancing mania. For over a month, they squirm like white maggots on carrion, it is said that he dies a fortnight every day, heart attack or dehydration.
To contain the epidemic, the nobility worried requires the opinion of specialists, they reject the astrological or supernatural causes, announcing that the disease is due to blood too hot, the treatment is all found: “We must cure the bad by the bad. If they want to dance, well they dance! “. On the cathedral square, under the benevolent eye of the lord, the authorities build a platform and hire twelve professional musicians to pace night and day, the footsteps of convulsants, they have “the vague look; face turned to the sky; their arms and legs animated by spasmodic and tired movements; their shirts, skirts and stockings, soaked with sweat, glued to their emaciated bodies, “John Waller wrote years later. To attract by the sound of the bagpipes, viols and tambourines, it’s soon the whole city which is gathered around the “partygoers”, understanding well to profit from this free show. Thus exhibited, the virus is spread exponentially. At the end of July we change our strategy, the stands are dismantled and the musicians debauched, but the dancers will continue for several more weeks until a ceremony in honor of Saint-Guy delivers them.
The project is an update of this event.
The Strasbourg dancing epidemic of 1518 is not an isolated case, more than twenty comparable episodes are listed between the 13th and 17th centuries. We do not know the precise causes of these events that resist the medical explanation. It could be epidemic chorea or consumption of rye ergot containing lysergic acid (LSD).
Beyond the tragicomic atmosphere that emerges, it’s the metaphorical potential of the behaviour of specialists that interests me.
Transposed to modern and contemporary times, the event questions the emptiness of our speeches and actions in the face of the enormity of the crises we are going through. The impotence of these macabre dances that are these nests of specialists, economy, technology, politics.
In the Middle Ages, the omnipresence of death in its most terrifying forms, the Hundred Years’ War, the plague, allowed the development of a rich macabre iconography which finds its paroxysm in dance macabre. This iconography nourishes a reassuring imagination by the morality it conveys, it underlines the vanity of social distinctions and the equality of the rich and the poor in the face of death.