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Elles, Les Productions Figlio, The Cultch/Rio Tinto Alcan 2012 Winner

Image credit: Production still from Elles, Les Productions Figlio, Photo credit: Chris Randle, 2012

Joining a prestigious list of some of Vancouver’s most daringly innovative arts companies, Serge Bennathan’s Les Productions Figlio premieres Elles as the 12th winner of the Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Awards. Next year’s winner was also announced as Theatre Conspiracy's production-in-progress, Extraction, and starting in 2014, RTA winners will also be additionally funded for a tour through Northern British Columbia. The award itself is worth sixty grand, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at in our current arts funding climate both provincially and nationally, and looking backwards, the RTA Performing Arts Award has been directly responsible for launching many international careers.

Starting from Holy Body Tattoo's Circa to Kidd Pivot's Lost Action, the peer assessed funds allowed a shift in creative process to dream bigger than before. This is true for Bennathan’s Elles, which featured a depth through its employment of a range of dancers from across Canada. While most professional dancers do hop across the country to dance for various companies, the eight female dancers in Elles are not assimilating into a company’s repertoire as much as they are bringing to the show their own unique histories. With an age difference of over twenty years between the youngest and the oldest, and bringing in different strengths from contact to ballet, I doubt it’s a coincidence that Bennathan chooses to focus on dancers from Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Montreal, the three Canadian cities that sustain a national presence while creating their own dance vocabulary. Bennathan plays a bit of a maestro in assembling a series of powerhouse solos and duets together into one piece, building a tempo that begins with a soft gracefulness and moves deeper and deeper into a frenetically charged propulsion.

The eight dancers, Erin Drumheller, Linnea Swan, Valerie Calam, Ali Robson, Alison Denham, Darcy McMurray, Susan Elliott and Carolyn Woods, have been given the luxury of time to work on the details, especially with their hand gestures and many more minute and quick physical movements such as ticks, wobbles, and juts that speak louder than words. The herd movements were best when synchronicity broke down and the movement rippled outwards rather than being led. As individual uniqueness is played up more so in this production, the ensemble remains cohesive in some shining moments of collective expression. In certain scenes that appear more like chain reactions, Bennathan makes it clear that when one has been affected, all have been affected. The musical composition by Bertrand Chenier was utterly enigmatic, or maybe cinematic, and was the (other) backbone to the show. Some very good image-making occurs throughout, including the last scene which I read as a landscape of warm pulsating rocks or orbs. 


- While I don’t think any single dancer stands out or is suppose to in this mixed cast, Linnea Swan’s gestures were noticeably strongest.

- I liked it when certain duets fell out of synch, but I’m not certain that was the intention.

- The set was not really used to its effect as shadow play was hinted at, but never executed.

I must admit I found myself resisting the show at first, as it appeared to be another lyrical contemporary dance piece working on a classical motif of women as forest nymphs, but hats off to Les Productions Figlio for shattering that resistance.

Elles runs March 13 - 17, 2012 at The Cultch

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