Culture & Conversation

Tough to be a Man, Tough to be a Woman

If there were a yearbook made for Quebec’s next wave of dance, choreographer Virginie Brunelle might be named ‘Most Likely To Succeed’.  With her third and latest full-length work, Complexe des genres, 29-year-old Brunelle cements her local darling status and confirms her talents as a serious dancemaker destined for bigger stages.  Complexe des genres received its world premiere at Théâtre La Chapelle on September 6.

A non-narrative sextet for three women and three men, Complexe des genres moves beyond the battle of the sexes to explore the awkward and often desperate scene of human coupling.  The hour-long series of movement tableaus containing mostly duets, but also solos, trios and group scenes, opens with a salient image: Three sets of hybrid bodies – pelvic-thrusting male lower halves and bare female upper halves rising out of tutus – as they rock and flail on the floor.  An incoherent, troublesome fit.

Romance is tenuous in Complexe des genres, although longing and vulnerability, absolute.  To a melancholic playlist of classical music hits spanning Schubert, Beethoven, Chopin, Max Richter and Phillip Glass, dancers try to connect on a barren stage.  After getting hot and heavy around an unwieldy chair (an unsatisfactory encounter), lumberjack-like Luc Bouchard-Boissonneault and leggy Claudine Hébert put their inner struggles on display, unabashed by the slapping of skin or the boney thud of their landings.  Their dancing alternately sensual and calloused, sustained and syncopated, the pair heave, grab and fling their way through demanding lifts and turns, quoting ballet and swing dance moves but with none of the easy clichés about men and women.  At various points, both show their fists and fatigue.

Male-female relationships being a recurring subject in Brunelle’s work, partnering is also her primary choreographic vehicle, and its instances reveal her craft at its most refined.  Even without the maudlin soundtrack, Brunelle knows how to use rhythm and repetition to build emotional resonance in movement.  One passage featuring loose-maned Frédéric Tavernini and compact Isabelle Arcand has him guide her undulating body as it seeks the floor, letting her momentarily writhe out just above it, only to send her surging back up to vertical.  Repeated three times and sped up incrementally, the short phrase gathers myriad colors.

Virginie Brunelle’s choreographic career has been on a fast track ever since she graduated from UQAM’s Dance Department in 2007.  She got her first full-length work, Les cuisses à l’écart du coeur (2008), noticed by the influential local choreographer Dave St-Pierre, and went on to tour the piece, as well as her second, Foutrement (2009), across Europe.  Brunelle’s highly physical, flesh-baring works betray a distinct Quebec contemporary dance pedigree, and yet with her textured, pure movement palette she stands out on a local scene increasingly trending towards multidisciplinary performance.

In Complexe des genres, Brunelle proves she doesn’t need the provocative nudity of her previous pieces to strip her dancers down.  The rawest scene, quite wonderful, is a quiet trio of undulating men.  Their thick, damp chests bared, Tavernini, Bouchard-Boissonneault and Simon-Xavier Lefebvre step soft-footedly together around the stage, eyes closed and bodies lapping rhythmically at the empty space.  When they pick up their heels in unison, vulnerability emanates.

Ever-present in the piece is the materiality of the body, to which Brunelle’s brand of realism is irrevocably tied.  In a punishing solo, Sophie Breton repeatedly hurls herself knee-and-shin-first into the floor (cringe).  When Hébert emerges to mirror her, except accompanied by two supportive male partners, Breton’s crashing becomes all the more violent, visceral.  She seals her suffering in a plank position, pushing up from her forearms to her palms, then her fists, then fingertips.

Despite a forgettable, feel-good ending, Complexe des genres is a solid dance work in which Brunelle demonstrates, with formalistic flair, a developing personal style of edgy idiosyncrasy, multidirectional movement, jagged rhythmic texture and gestural motifs (fists pressing into the ground, into mouths, unfurling to the side) that often stick.  Audiences can have high hopes for this young local talent.


Complexe des genres opens the 2011-2012 season at Théâtre La Chapelle and runs Sept. 6-17 at 8pm.  Tickets and information:

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