Seven dancers, in contemporary dress, crash into each other relentlessly. Each impact is punctuated by an explosive grunt. As the frequency increases, we begin to recognize—in the movement and sound—the intimate urgency of sexual intercourse. It’s an arresting spectacle—this recurring pattern. And perhaps uncomfortable, depending on your sensibilities. It is one of many resonant examples of breath, and other mechanics of physical exertion, that are highlighted by Compagnie Virginie Brunelle’s Les corps avalés, presented at Harbourfront Centre.
Choreographer Virginie Brunelle’s aesthetic is self-aware. Even the on-stage presence of the Molinari Quartet feels more than just an auditory consideration; it feels distinctly purposeful, inviting us to witness the mechanics of music creation and its relationship to movement. The classical pieces feel timeless and, at times, it’s hard to parse the origin of any given mood, as if the dancers themselves invoke the music.
Throughout, there is a great deal of humour in their interactions and in the artful use of certain props. In one particularly intriguing image, the performers become props themselves—one is rigid as a doll as she’s maneuvered into place, while the others are pulled out from wings, arms and legs akimbo, in a heap of astroturf panels. These abstractions are striking, the textures as evocative as the movement. In one vivid sequence sand (perhaps grain?) is tossed onto the stage, accumulating gradually, until it becomes an immersive playing surface.
There are arresting moments of violence and physicalized frustration. These shift fluidly into manifestations of tenderness and affection. As power dynamics evolve and mutate, the piece draws us into these currents. Les corps avalés has a pleasing balance of contrasting tones—often hilarious, frequently exhilarating and sometimes poignant.