Bijoux is the latest performance piece conceptualized by Marie-Gabrielle Ménard, founder of MANDALA SITÙ, a “laboratory-incubator-greenhouse for feminine dance studies,” featuring five female dancers in solos choreographed by five local male choreographers.
“I wanted to see whether the men’s vision of women would be gentler than women’s,” Ménard said after a rehearsal. “Before the men started work, I expected them to show women competing with each other. But the men didn’t – not at all. […] Even though the five choreographers worked independently of each other, the thread of female harmony weaves throughout the entire work. Only after all the solos were competed sis the choreographers see each other’s work.”
“It seems that men see other qualities in women than their competitiveness among each other, ” Ménard continued. “You know, we don’t often talk about women’s solidarity. You see this spirit in the show’s last solo by David Rancourt. Each woman has her own space, but in harmony with the others.”
Accompanied by live music by Gaële, the five solos represent five different stories, with different movements, different music, and different sound and light effects.
The first solo (performed by Milan Gervais) opens with repetitive arm gestures and returning to the same position with one elbow to the ground (perhaps symbolizing surrender or some kind of strong pull?). The movements alternate from choppy to smooth, tracing the construction and deconstruction of natural movement. One movement emerges as throughout: holding the elbow with the opposite hand (as if holding oneself in place in order to continue to function). The soloist is surrounded by the other four dancers (they mirror her movement in unison). By locking one arm or leg with the other, the continuous flow of movement is punctured and interrupted (like jump cuts).
The second solo (by Geneviève Bolla) is composed of floor movements and quickly evolves into a duet with tightly intertwined and embracing movements also close to the ground, then transforms into a trio of twists and intertwined limbs, until all five dancers repeat the original floor routine. The embraces are powerful, not fragile, almost sexual, strong, supportive, structural, allowing movements to evolve. It’s as if they are forcing their limbs to move by using one arm to move another (perhaps symbolizing a struggle over control?).
The third solo (by Émilie Gratton) is the one that stands out as a male fantasy (or fetish) of femininities and feminine mystiques. We hear the sound of a knife being sharpened, three of the dancers take a seat in three chairs and are covered up with white sheets. We hear barking sounds as the soloist begins to undress, her movement is minimalistic, she is spectacularized and fetishized by a red underwear and a red mask. We hear the sounds of a whistle blowing on a water kettle (sounds of domesticity). The dance movements are mere poses, as the soloist is exposed to the spectators and the other dancers.
The fourth solo is by Marie-Gabrielle Ménard herself, and represents continuous breaking-down of the solo and revival through the other dancers. The embraces in this solo are softer, more sensual and even loving, a source of life against the brokenness and resistance and collapse, a way of slowly bringing back the soloist to movement (perhaps symbolizing perseverance).
The fifth solo (by Karina Iraola) is accompanied by heavy female breathing sounds and slow, swaying movements that become more aggressive and the breathing becomes more violent (loss of control?) until it breaks down into primal cries and noises (complete deconstruction of woman?). For the finale, the five dancers come together into collapses and embraces of support, falling and rising together, and in pairs, and building each other back up.
While all five solos are mesmerizing and are effectively enhanced by the lighting and music, and while the theme of female solidarity and support shines through, there is something unsettling lingering in the movements of breaking down and collapsing and the need of support. Is that how men (still) see women? Not competing with each other, as Ménard accurately pointed out, but instead relying on each other for continuous support, revival, and progress? As vulnerable, exposed, exotic jewels? Or are they seen as trying to escape their own infringements and casts?
As the press release informs us, “the five solos break the ice, delicately scratching the surface to reveal the gems of the soul and the jewels of being. The movement is both brutal and sensual. It is at times poetic, at other times turbulent, even inviting the spectator to enter into the private world of the dancers.”
The costumes were designed by Montréal’s own Marie Saint Pierre. They are at once feminine and empowered, simple and elegant, modern and timeless – Marie Saint Pierre signature style.
Bijoux is performed January 18-21, 2012 at Agora de la dance.