Virginie Brunelle is on a roll. Since she burst onto the scene just a few years ago, she’s received the kind of attention many artists covet. Does she deserve it? The fact is she’s got choreographic chops, and she’s constantly working. Her graduating piece at Université de Québec à Montréal, Les cuisses à l’écart du coeur caught the attention of choreographer Dave St-Pierre, who programmed it as the opening act for his show, Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! That public show of support pretty much single-handedly sparked acclaim and paved the way to opportunity for the young artist.
Brunelle has become known for her highly physical explorations of uneasy male-female relationships in which egos and passions clash. Works such as Foutrement and Complexe des genres link dance action to themes of incompatibility and the impossibility of love. With her latest group work PLOMB, presented at L’Agora de la danse, the Montréal-based choreographer is showing off developing dancemaking skills while tackling issues of intimacy and navigating the waters of psychological intensity.
Here, in PLOMB, Brunelle is in her element exploring yet another theme – sorrow. In a series of tableaux, she captures certain aspects of what one is not yet ready to face, whether it’s the thought of a love affair nearing its end or the solemnity of mourning. Sorrow seeps into the core of the work. Tremors of annoyance and anger filter into the relationships she portrays, in all their variations. She’s working with pacing in this show and, while there are dynamic flashes of energy in some of the lifts in the duets she so loves, there are fewer than in past works and the overall feel is slower.
The nine dancers – Isabelle Arcand, Luc Bouchard-Boissonneault, Karina Champoux, Sophie Corriveau, Claudine Hébert, Francis La Haye, Anne Le Beau, Simon-Xavier Lefebvre, Nicolas Patry – remain on stage, often sitting on chairs, from beginning to end, as witnesses observing what’s going on: it’s reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s staging. Working for the first time with some new dancers, including seasoned performers like Le Beau and Corriveau, Brunelle is expanding beyond her faithful troupe, most in the twenty-something age bracket. By extension, it brings a more varied level of experience and maturity to the production.
She begins PLOMB by showing us the ecstatic, extended glee of a man’s birth. La Haye appears in his birthday suit, and he imbues his burbling reactions to his newfound life with a broad theatricality. It goes on far too long. From there, the choreographer courses through a life cycle that ends in a mournful, anguished death.
Cinematic references abound in this new work, particularly in the light booms on cine stands (nicely done by lighting designer Alexandre Pilon-Guay) that define the space. There’s a big dance number near the top of the show in which all the dancers grin outrageously – it’s a send-up that’s reminiscent of the vacuous TV variety shows from another era. Other sections of synchronized movement seem well rehearsed but are uninspiring.
Towards the end of the work, there is the torturous and heart-wrenching grief of a woman (Le Beau) who is swallowed up by illness and the traces of despair faced by the one left behind (Corriveau). As the scene progresses and transforms, Le Beau, carrying a bouquet of flowers, rips the bunch to shreds in a desperate gesture against mortal decay and death (the point at which Corriveau enters this dark corner of existence). Brunelle plays this moment as big, dramatic and very important, not so much a warm bath of emotion as an over-the-top indulgence. This part of the dance, which is immersed in ideas of desolation and a profound sense of solitary angst, would have had far more impact with fewer histrionics. If I had to pin down one irksome aspect of Brunelle’s oeuvre, it would be that she tends towards exaggeration, and that’s the case here. It’s nothing a good edit couldn’t cure.