Virginie Brunelle: Complexe des genres

Posted: June 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Virginie Brunelle: Complexe des genres

Compagnie Virginie Brunelle, Complexe des genres, Teatro Astra, Turin, May 25

One of the three couplings in the opening section of Complexe des Genres (photo: Marie Philibert Dubois)

One of the three couplings in the opening section of Complexe des Genres (photo: Marie Philibert Dubois)

For a second year I attended the Interplay Dance Festival in Turin, drawn by the beauty of the city and the inspired programming (of which more later) of festival director Natalia Casorati. This year there is an added attraction: a work I hadn’t seen before by Montreal choreographer, Virginie Brunelle.

I was living in Montreal when Virginie Brunelle came to the attention of its dance audiences with her first work, Les cuisses à l’écart du coeur. Raw and passionate in its physical language, it was hailed as the precocious choreographic progeny of Dave St-Pierre. Since then Brunelle has completed three other works, the second of which is Complexe des genres. Whereas St-Pierre appears to have extrapolated sensation in his later works, Brunelle has quietly matured as a choreographer, returning to the familiar relationship theme of Les cuisses but treating it with a spatial and emotional dimension that deepens its theatrical leverage. She has translated the complexity and tension of sexual relations from internal dialogue to physical form, observing it with keen psychological insights balanced by an earthy sense of humour.

In a visually stunning opening section set to Mozart’s Requiem Aeternam and Dies Irae, three women, naked from the waist up, sit circling and gyrating their torsos in wild abandon on the thighs of their supine, somnolent men. At the point of contact between the men and women is a swathe of tulle mesh though it is not clear who is wearing it. The men finally get to their feet with the women still attached dangling upside down inside the tulle with their legs around their partners’ waists. While the men meet above in a gaggle to grunt and roar, the women giggle and scream below: a suite of royal playing cards from a mixed gender pack.

The presence of the tulle skirts in Complexe des genres is not gratuitous: although her dancers move on stage with the weight and swagger of walking in the street or entering a room, Brunelle has based her choreographic structure — and some steps — on classical ballet. In her ensemble work, solos and in duets her classical steps are loose and give way easily to force and gravity — what Brunelle calls ‘ballet cassé’ or broken-down ballet — while her gestures share an affinity with daily life even if their dynamics are pushed (and pulled) to extremes. It is a hybrid physical language whose emotional clout is immediate: eloquent in its informality and emotional in its punch.

The cast of Complexe des genres is ideally suited to this vocabulary. The men (Simon-Xavier Lefebvre, Luc Bouchard Boissonneault and Peter Trosztmer) are as capable of predatory brute force as they are of vulnerable introspection and the women (Isabelle Arcand, Claudine Hébert and Sophie Breton) have a bruising self-assurance that keeps the men in check. Neither side wins this battle of the sexes but each gains in the exchange of experience. The first duet with Boissonneault and Hébert is a concentrated study in physical and psychological complexity that is the seed of the entire work and one of the most powerful, emotionally convoluted dialogues I have seen. At the end Brunelle has Boissonneault as a bulky Virgin Mary lay the petite Christ figure of Hébert in the form of a pietà, but with characteristic inversion the spirited Hébert gets up and carries Boissonneault off on her back.

The men have trouble coming to terms with the women’s strength and equilibrium; in their partnering they test both with some brutal manipulation but to little avail; they are worn down by the effort but they also start to react positively to the women’s endurance. Arcand’s solo surrounded by male testosterone shows a remarkable ability to throw herself off balance and keep her feet on the floor, gestures that seem to express both longing and of being lost. The men become protective and rush to catch her when they think she’s gone too far. Brunelle borrows a device from Pina Bausch: events happen in threes, and by the third catch, the men start returning to a more threatening mode. Boissonneault ends by lifting Arcand under her arms above his head; Lefebvre and Trosztmer enter with Hébert and Breton in the same posture and we are suddenly aware of three crucifixions in three spotlights. Descended from their crosses the women gather like three graces and behind them we see the naked figure of Lefebvre. Nudity in Brunelle’s work, as in St-Pierre’s, is a metaphor for human fragility and observational transparency. In Complexe des genres Brunelle uses nudity sparingly but when she does it carries an emotional charge, as in the opening statement and here where it appears the women, crouching over Lefebvre’s body, are about to lay his manhood to rest.

If Complexe des genres were a feminist manifesto this might be the climax but I feel Brunelle is a hardcore romantic (her musical choices include Chopin and Schubert) who wants to bring both sides of the complexity together. The end is what a romantic might hope for as Lefebvre and Breton dance a slow waltz while the other four launch hundreds of paper aeroplanes over the stage in celebration, an activity in which the audience can join thanks to the aeroplanes left on our seats when we arrived. It is a celebration of the happy ending and of the battles fought to achieve it, but also of the totally committed performance that brings the audience immediately to its feet.