Elles is full of raw, relentless movement
A Productions Figlio production. At the Cultch Historic Theatre on Tuesday, March 13. Continues until March 17
In the making of Elles, Serge Bennathan was inspired by Giselle’s Wilis, the vindictive nymphs who inhabit the forest at night. Any connection to the classical story ballet ends there, however. Elles is by no means a narrative work. But one thing is indisputable: just like those spirits who were betrayed by their lovers, the women in the Vancouver choreographer’s new work could dance any man to death.
The piece opens with a meditative scene: all eight performers stand side by side within spitting distance of the first row. They each take a long, hard look at the viewers and then stretch their arms out and slowly drop down into a deep squat, their eyes closed. It’s as if we were watching a yoga session.
The mood of that opening stretch is fitting: just as yoga is credited for introducing westerners to the concept of mindfulness—a state of being where you’re fully focused on the present moment—Bennathan’s Elles asks only that you take it all in. Unlike the sweeping romance that tangentially informed the piece, there’s no plot line or character development here. Even in those rare instances when the performers touch one another, there’s little tenderness or tension. Bennathan’s raw, relentless movement is the kind of stuff you lose yourself in.
Bennathan’s Les Productions Figlio won last year’s Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award to make the work, whose performers come from all across Canada. They’re all dressed in black or grey pants and sleeveless tops, a tight-knit bunch for most of the show, though the group occasionally splinters apart into solos, duets, and trios.
Much of the movement is inspired by nature, a theme reflected in Jay Gower Taylor’s striking crinkly backdrop upon which a forest is painted in black and white, and in Bertrand Chenier’s original score, which, in addition to his live piano accompaniment, features sounds of crickets and streams.
Sometimes the dancers skitter across the floor on all fours, insectlike; other times they waddle like ducks. In one memorable scene, six of the dancers hold up the formidable Susan Elliott while another flutters her hands to make it look as though Elliott has wings. She morphs into a grasshopper before our eyes.
Although Bennathan keeps the tone mainly contemplative throughout, Elles reaches a climax when the music shifts to a pulsing house beat and the dancers tear into bold grand jetés while violently shaking their heads in mid-air. They skip and jump with high-velocity virtuosity.
Elles could have used a little more of this charged energy, but Bennathan brings back a more delicate air as all eight dancers face away from the audience, peel up their shirts, and allow us to take in their rounded bare backs under James Proudfoot’s soft lighting.
The dancers’ undulating spines are the only structure Elles needs.