Something beyond

Julia Postle on nouvelle danse and Compagnie de Brune in Quebec

Compagnie De Brune, Anatomie

Compagnie De Brune, Anatomie

Compagnie De Brune, Anatomie

New Dance: an ambiguous, unfixed, transient term. It’s a bit too expansive for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in considering where this term fits in dance history. British choreographers and theorists embraced it as a broad means of categorising early reactions to modern dance. The more common, present-day use of the term is as a catch-phrase. So let me continue the catch-phrase discourse.

When I think of the ‘nouvelle danse’ of Quebec, the artist who first comes to mind is Marie Chouinard—controversial in the 1970s, and now, finding movement from an internal, cellular motivation. With Chouinard as my only point of reference, I was more than willing to extend my knowledge of the Quebec new dance. Anatomie, presented by Lynda Gaudreau’s Compagnie de Brune, is a study in corporeality or, as Gaudreau has suggested, a type of architecture of the human body. I was fortunate to witness five parts of this originally seven-part piece; a reworking in keeping with both the shifting nature of ‘new dance’ and the choreographer’s personal emphasis on changeability and play. Throughout Anatomie, Ana Sokolovic’s compositions thread the physical core of this playful vision; the connection between the movement and the music is obvious and continuous, giving the dancers a strange, other-worldly quality.

Sylvain Poirier’s opening solo introduces Gaudreau’s sculptural conceptualisation of the body. He stands just on the edge of a sharply defined square of light, moving his head, shoulders and arms in and out of the light; reaching, grasping at something beyond, in the darkness. Looking into the light, then with indifference, through the audience.

Poirier reappears on one knee upon a raised platform. Fully exposed, we have a sense of the torso’s relationship to the rest of the body, as he cups his elbow in his hand, spiralling his back towards us, in a wrapping of himself.

The following duet between Poirier and Anne Bruce Falconer explores the body in other ways, revealing joints and limbs in stark isolation from the whole, and contrasting this with their implicit contribution to the body in motion. It is a delicious sort of tension which Gaudreau explores and tests.

Poirier holds Falconer’s head with one hand. They are close, but there is a certain distance between them. He finds the limits of movement, rotating and shifting her head through arcs and turns. Falconer maintains that sense of indifference which Poirier applied to his solo; initially submissive and later participating in the investigation of movement and the body. Folding into each other, shifting between manipulator and manipulated, they find physical spaces, curves and surfaces particular to their different bodies. It is a ‘new’ intimacy of performance, far removed from the polite romanticism of more familiar duets.

Annie Roy’s solo focuses more explicitly on the legs and their role in locomotion. It doesn’t sound particularly ‘new’, but Gaudreau has created some fascinating sequences that merge the classical and contemporary dance traditions very effectively, moving beyond the more straightforward process of setting them against one another to, alternatively, a rethinking of both dance forms to emphasise their similarities as well as their differences. So while Roy throws herself into the plies and grand battements of ballet, she does so with an aggression and sense of weight that departs from the traditional. It is a thread of experimentalism that links each section of Anatomie to the other.

Fourth on the program is Falconer’s more defiant solo, which contrasts distorted ballet technique against gesture and more contemporary movement vocabulary; all covered with playful connections with the audience: making eye contact and looking away, abruptly. It is almost as if she is presenting parts of herself to us for our contemplation. First the legs, slicing complicated patterns across the space or shuffling from one point to another. Sometimes she retreats from us, always acknowledging our presence in the space with her deliberate gaze.

The final ‘trio pour soloistes’ is the concretisation of the sculptural, architectural ideas that Gaudreau embeds in her choreography. The three bodies move within the space, at times meeting physically, almost haphazardly, and at others dancing alone. The duet between Falconer and Roy—with Poirier repeating his first solo off to the side—is another exercise in manipulation; Falconer holding Roy by the hands and sending her body plunging forwards, backwards, onto the floor. Again, the dancers convey a robotic indifference to each other, and to the physical closeness of their duet. It is almost unsettling to watch. But it is also a highly perceptive, analytical examination of the body in motion. And the work speaks about relationships in ways that more expressive dance cannot.

Critic Linde Howe-Beck has suggested that Compagnie de Brune is more well-known in Europe than in Canada. Gaudreau does spend a great deal of her creative time in Klapstuk, a production centre in Leuven, Belgium. It is interesting, then, to be witness to performance which manifests a borrowing from different sources, as well as the forging of a singular artistic practice within the broad domain of Quebec new dance.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 39

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 1997