A Compagnie Virginie Brunelle production. A Vancouver International Dance Festival presentation. At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Thursday, March 3. Continues until March 5
Romance isn’t just dead in Foutrement, it’s stamped into the ground by a pointe shoe.
You’ve never seen the balletic footwear used in the extreme ways it is in Virginie Brunelle’s striking yet brutal exploration of the perils of lust. The two half-naked female dancers, stripped down to white panties, teeter and tiptoe precariously, using pointe to show their vulnerability and the tenuousness of their relationship at one moment, jackhammering their toes into the ground in a frenzy of rage at the next.
Ballet moves feed the sexually charged but rarely tender moments in this tortuous love triangle. The sole male dancer pulls Isabelle Arcand’s long leg high over his shoulder, then pushes her down into splits. A two-person grand plié, with her in front and him behind, becomes hot and heavy. And watch Simon-Xavier Lefebvre’s hands as he hoists his partner into powerful lifts, placed aggressively on an ass cheek or edging lewdly between her legs.
But ballet technique is just one of the tools this exciting new choreographic force has at her disposal. In the opening’s looping beginning, Arcand and Lefebvre don hockey pads to prepare for coupling. He strides onto the stage to do sexual battle with her; sometimes she throws her head into his torso or he lifts her and she collapses at his feet, and then he leaves again. The scenario, set ironically to the melodramatic strains of a Vincenzo Bellini aria, repeats—always ending with him leaving again—until the pads, as they say, come off.
Likewise, there’s a coolly metaphorical scene with multiple belts—cinched fetishistically around the women’s bare torsos, thrown down in a mountain at the back of the stage, and whipped around by one person in a fit of frustration. Just the undoing of belts symbolizes something sexual, but here they also work as images of constriction and bondage (of the relationship kind).
As for the dance itself, it’s as physically and emotionally racking as it gets, underlied, of course, with rigorous technique. It’s almost scary how much Arcand, in particular, gives of herself here, arching off her partner ecstatically; holding his neck and flailing her legs out horizontally in the air; or doubled over, hanging limp and lifeless on his outstretched arm. Dancer Claudine Hébert shows equal commitment, at one point running and leaping across the stage into Lefebvre’s arms—unbelievably, while he’s lying on his back on the floor.
Nothing ends well, here, the dancers caught in a self-destructive loop of animal attraction and betrayal. It’s as unsettling as it is audaciously honest, the kind of work that feels like it has the guts to say what so many other dance works tiptoe around. Props to the Vancouver International Dance Festival for showing equal guts, bringing us a talent who is making a buzz with such provocative work in Europe.
Anyone who’s interested in seeing ballet pushed into ferocious, edgy new territory, as well as anyone who’s ever been burned by love, should check it out. Date-night show? We’ll leave that up to you.