PARIS, June 5 (AP)—France’s synchronized swim team had its Olympics program worked out: In black bathing suits, they would goose-step in German military style to the side of the pool.
Then, diving in, they would reenact the arrival of Jewish women in the death camps, selection by Nazi doctors and their march to the gas chambers.
While the team’s leader defended the program as art, Sports Minister Guy Drut decided it might offend crowds in Atlanta. He ordered a change.
The team had planned to perform the four-minute program, set to music from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and to chants sung in Jewish ghettos before the Holocaust….
The French sports daily L’Equipe condemned the team for using one of history’s darkest periods as an entertainment theme. The team’s technical director, Jean-Paul Clemencon, defended the program, saying it had “great emotional value.”
—Newsday, June 6, 1996
As two Americans of practically French extraction and eager that a fledgling art form find its wings, we would like to see the team put this rebuff behind it and get on with something that still redounds to the glory of French culture without necessarily giving audiences the willies. Here are a couple of ideas we’ve been throwing out:
- “Pasteurale”: Life of the Great Druggist.
The team, making full use of the “free style,” re-enacts Louis Pasteur’s experiments with bacteria leading to the germ theory of infection. His work on phylloxera is mimicked by deft strokes, as are his studies of chicken cholera. In an uplifting climax, swimmers are successfully “vaccinated” against anthrax and rabies to the sound of the “1812” Overture. Four minutes, twenty-nine seconds.
- “Esther Williams at the Lapin Agile”: A celebration of French painting.
Liberty leads the team, wearing Phrygian bathing caps and weight belts, into the deep end. The naiads assemble on the bottom of the pool, where they languidly consume a “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.” Then, shooting to the surface and gasping in tandem, they convey the sensational reception of the Armory Show. Three-and-a-half minutes; four to allow the costume change for the optional “explosion in a shingle factory” finale.
- “Four Years Ago at Marienbad.”
Did half the swim team really have that affair with the other half at the last summer games? An intriguing new mise-en-piscine fully retains the film’s obliquity and atmospherics while hewing to the strictures of the short form. Two minutes.
- “Dominance and Submersion”: A post-humanist underwater ballet.
Drawing on themes from Michel Foucault, the team symbolizes its withdrawal of allegiance from the out-moded sociohistorical construct of power and authoritarianism implicit in the state of buoyancy by performing “The Death of Man” in an empty pool. Sixty seconds.
- “J’Accuzzi”: The Dreyfus Affair.
Finesses the painful opera libretto. In severe terry cloth robes, the team marches onto the diving board in French military style. One by one, they cannonball off, miming the discovery by a French spy in the German Embassy of a secret list of French documents received by Major Max von Schwartzkoppen, military attaché in Paris. Next, suspicion falls on Dreyfus, followed by the acquittal of Esterhazy, Zola’s open letter to the president of the Republic, Dreyfus’s trip to Devil’s Island, and the eventual unification and bringing to power of France’s political left wing. In the shallow end, Dreyfus is exonerated and given the gold medal of the Legion of Honor. Just under four minutes.
August 8, 1996