This season Agora de la dance opens with another masterpiece of modern dance, a collaboration between choreographers Hélène Blackburn and Pierre Lecours, the creative team behind the notorious Suites Cruelles (2010).
Their new creation, Duels, is composed of 19 encounters and confrontations between two or three dancers with varying gender dynamics, roles, and power struggles. However, unlike the gender-problematic movements and codes of Suites Cruelles, Duels is more balanced in terms of gender equality in movement, diverse in imagination, styles, and still powerful in modern dance codes.
Duels begins with a prologue (two different prologues are presented on alternating performance nights) of a couple dancing in traditional gender roles, with the male dancer as the active, leading, and even imposing figure, while the female dancer is passively thrown and turned and twisted into submission, until she finally collapses, and is carried off stage by Pierre Lecours.
The second duel is a much more gender-equal encounter between Hélène Blackburn and a younger male dancer, Sébastien Cosette-Masse. The equality of movement is established from the beginning, as she lifts him from behind, and they proceed to perform equal movements together. No gender hierarchy is imposed. They both lead and surrender into twists, until the male dancer collapses on the floor.
The third duel is a “girl fight” between two blondes, cheered on my the rest of the dancers, until one collapses on the floor.
In the fourth duel, the two collapsed dancer from the previous two duels come together in a more gentle, and gender-equal dance.
In the fifth duel, the “attacking” woman is pushed off, and finally thrown to the floor, and replaced a second male dancer (Pierre Lecours) in a more equal dance encounter, until Lecours is left collapsed on the floor.
In the sixth duel, with the two collapsed dancers still on either side of the stage, two more couples engage in a more classical dance routine, in which the male dancers take on the role of carriers and enablers of the female ballerinas.
In the seventh duel the couple from the fifth duel reunite in a more sensual, more balanced dance to the song “It’s Alright” by Bang Gang. This is perhaps the most mesmerizing and moving duel of the show. The chemistry between the dancers Simon-Xavier Lefebvre and Daphnée Laurendeau makes their movements tender and stunning despite the force evident in every move. The dance is a flow of embraces connected by the dancer’s bodies and movements, flowing in and out of each other with so much grace and harmony, it is actually disappointing when they both collapse on the floor to signal the end of their duel.
The eighth duel is a number between an older male dancer, Daniel Soulières, and a younger female dancer, Merryn Krikzinger on a bench. She is the more aggressive one and lowers his collapsing body on the floor behind the bench.
The ninth duel is a trio with a male dancer and two female dancer in white shirts and underwear.
In the tenth duel, three male dancers in black suits pick up the collapsed body of Daniel Soulières, and move his motionless body into various dance moves, before relapsing him back on the floor.
In the eleventh dues, the female dancer, Daphnée Laurendeau, throws her shoes at the male dancer, before collapsing on the floor.
In the twelfth duel, Simon-Xavier Lefebvre dances with a new female partner.
The thirteenth duel introduces a new dancing couple Alexandre Desilets and Roxanne Duchesne-Roy, who dance to “The Look” by Metronomy, dancing as equals, before he collapses on the floor.
In the fourteenth dues we see Merryn Krikzinger being pushed and pulled and lifted by her neck, and finally left collapsed in a violent dance with Marc-André Poliquin.
The fifteenth dance is a more gender-equal encounter between Sylvie Moreau and Alexandre Carlos. Neither of the dancers collapse.
In the sixteenth duel Roxanne Duchesne-Roy dances with a new male partner.
In the seventeenth duel 5 male dancers pick up the collapsed body of Merryn Krikzinger and manipulate her into different dance movements. The moment at which the audience gasps is when they drop her, face down, just catching her in time before she hits the floor.
The eighteenth dues is between Sylvie Moreau and two male dancers, all three performing equal movements without gender hierarchies.
The last duel is between Roxanne Duchesne-Roy and Jean-Daniel Bouchard to Alexandre Diselets singing “I cry” live on stage with the dancers.
What we witness in Duels is a range of power relations, ranging from gentle and moving, to passionate and engaging, to violent, subjugating, and almost abusive encounters, presenting us with all the variations of human relations in sets of beautifully choreographed and masterly executed compilations of dance numbers.
Duels is a thoughtful and intelligent explorations of movement and gender relations. It questions one of the most basic things we take for granted every day, namely: how do we move? How do we move in relation to a man, to a woman, to an older man, an older woman? How do we assert our movements in relation to others? How do we dominate or subjugate others? How are we dominated or subjugated by them? And finally, is there is a way of movement that breaks with the hierarchies, and does not result in power struggle?
Duels is performed until September 22, 2012 at Agora de la dance in Montreal.