With her new creation, Karine Denault creates an intimate space to reflect on the idea of pleasure as escapism. The performance is already in progress as you enter. Pleasure Dome takes place in the round, seats removed from the black box of the Agora de la Danse, inviting white pillows provided and three equidistant sound stations frame the space. Each station is occupied by a solitary woman — Karine Denault on a console, K.G. Guttman on guitar and keyboard and Dayna Gingras on a microphone. Known primarily as dance artists, by unveiling these performers as musicians, Denault’s intention to flip expectations is revealed right from the start.
The three women play in an ambient electroacoustic soundscape that opens the show. Meanwhile, the three men of the musical group K.A.N.T.N.A.G.A.N.O. lounge on the white floor in odalisque postures. The sounds that emerge are bewitching and sophisticated. In fact the music throughout this interdisciplinary performance is outstanding. Ranging from ambient to driving with multiple textures, it was hypnotizing and wonderful.
Eventually all six performers rise. With measured steps they survey each other, stirring the space until forming a pack; they are like elegant canines. As the piece progresses they separate and remain separated across the space for the majority of the show. It’s impossible to see everyone at once so viewing the work becomes a series of encounters with the performers you choose to focus on.
Guttman’s birdlike movements as she passes chocolate to the audience are playful in a surprisingly understated way. Gingras performs a superb Mick Jagger-like solo full of spasms and freaky gestures. She embodies a rock goddess on the prowl. Jonathan Parant draws my eye as a humorous Muppet-like creature. With a pink wig over his face he investigates the possibilities of dancing blind with a mic stand. Alexandre St-Onge and Alexander Wilson seem content in their isolation as they disappear into folds of transparent tissue and encounters with objects– a chair, yellow string, musical instruments, the floor. Denault is neutral in her presence throughout. The movement, the isolation of the performers and their clear sensitivity to each other’s personal space leaves me questioning if the work is more about pleasuring the self than losing a sense of self through pleasure.
Echoes of party scenes and late-night disco sessions emerge several times during this hour-long show. In one intense polyrhythmic outburst, Jonathan Parant’s decisive forearms and grounded stomping has me at the edge of my pillow. Towards the end, Gingras embodies more deviant desires, the pleasures in pain. After binding her legs with string–a striking image reminiscent of an Eric Stanton fetish drawing–she executes a graceful virtuosity on the floor within the constraints of her situation.
This glimpse at less comfortable pleasures connects to the core of Denault’s interest in the topic of pleasure as escapism and carries through into the last image of the work: a seated man smokes while a woman with a blond wig over her face stands beside him, her hand on his shoulder. They are together, but both seem empty. This final image is a symbol of the loss of self in the depths of pleasure, the after party where bodies have been pushed to the point of oblivion.
While I craved more dynamics in the choreography and dialogue between the sound and actions, within the context of a dance culture that tends to objectify the body with extreme abstraction or overdramatize sensations, I appreciate Denault’s thoughtful affirmation of the human body’s ability to feel pleasure.