It makes me want to feel, and move, and stretch. It shows me the richness of being female: to hold and abandon, to intimidate and lead, to fall and love and struggle and empower—and surrender to it all.
by @nadatodo | Anastasia Koutalianos
I rushed out the door in jeans and a parka as to make my way to The Cultch…only to realize it’s a fancier affair. After all, it’s the world premiere of Elles—the 2012 dance recipient of the Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award. I walked into the reception hall greeted by a large group of well-dressed patrons. Alas, I am in my jeans. Sigh.
Produced by Les Productions Figlio (founded by artistic director and choreographer Serge Bennathan), Elles is a dance piece inspired by the female movement of body and beyond.
Dance is like visual art. You either connect with it, or not. There is no in between, at least not for me. Following the show, I discussed the performance with some people who attended. They claimed to not know enough about dance to critique it but still enjoyed it.
I dismiss the idea that you must know art to have an opinion. I danced ballet for over ten years but don’t think it gives me more insight into the form. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. Technique is technique, but preference and instinct—that is, you like or dislike, still comes into play—may it be dance, theatre or canvases masquerading as haute-anything.
Rewind to 7:59pm. The theatre smells of smoke and is dimly lit. The stage is empty, with a treescape on the backdrop. I don’t know much about the performance besides the fact I’m about to see a dance and Rio Tinto is in the house.
Elles begins. The room is eerily silent. Eight women casually dressed in black or grey, pose, stretch, flex, and point. The performers extend their muscles, exhale and convulse. Oddly, the music has yet to start. Instead, it is their feet, their hands, their moans and breaths that guide the audience.
I’m still unsure to the genre. Within their flailing and jagged but tender movements is the elegance of ballet, the sporadic of lyrical, the flow of contemporary, the pumping of krumping and swaying of capoeira. I am hesitant to call Elles experimental because this label would not do the performance justice. It is a narrative, however both linear and non-linear. It is hypnotic, metamorphic, and seductive. It is everything I perceive a woman to be: sensual, ritualistic, enticing, sweet, safe, alluring, and mesmerizing.
The silence is broken with the sound of the piano and later with the scores of tribal beats, strummed chords and drum and bass. Through the music I feel transported. I’m bogged down with the day’s thoughts. My mind is swirling—and in some ways, the dance extends me its hands and takes me outside myself. It makes me want to feel, and move, and stretch. It shows me the richness of being female: to hold and abandon, to intimidate and lead, to fall and love and struggle and empower—and surrender to it all. I am most taken by dancers Alison Denham and Valerie Calam. They marry both soft and hard while controlling every limb and keeping exquisite musicality. I find myself seeking them out on stage.
While not always in synch and slightly too long, the production is captivating. It is slow and fast, emotive and sexy—light and dark. In many ways, its dichotomy is what I like most.
I gave the performance a standing ovation. I sit down and overhear the women behind me. While they loved some scenes—others, they could go without. I can understand. Interpretative dance is not for everyone. I’m not always its biggest fan. But Elles is beautiful. It is story was moving which leaves everything else up to personal preference (no dancing experience required).
Elles was hosted at The Cultch.
PS: Corporate and art world. No common ground? Well, thanks to Rio Tinto Alcan another local production company is receiving a performing arts award. This time ‘round the 2013 theatre award goes to Theatre Conspiracy. Its upcoming production of Extraction (irony intended?) will be played at The Cultch next year.
Choreography by Serge Bennathan
Composing by Bertrand Chenier
Lighting Design by James Proudfoot
Set design by Jay Gower Taylor
Costume Design by Linda Chow
Produced by Allyson McGrane
Elles dancers: Ali Robson, Alison Denham, Carolyn Woods, Darcy McMurray, Erin Drumheller, Linnea Swan, Susan Elliot and Valerie Calam