Dave St-Pierre Company, Sadler's Wells, London
Monday 06 June 2011
How do you establish yourself as an enfant terrible?
Canadian choreographer Dave St-Pierre takes the well-worn route of nudity. Dancers pounce on members of the audience, naked men waggling their genitalia in people's faces. This is much less ground-breaking than St-Pierre seems to think it is.
For these British performances, Sadler's Wells translates Un Peu de Tendresse Bordel de Merde! with the primly bowdlerised A Little Tenderness for Crying Out Loud!. The show starts with clothed dancers already in the auditorium. Men get in your way as you try to sit down. The women are more detached, lounging up and down the aisles. On stage, a naked man in a long blonde wig giggles and chatters in a falsetto voice.
Once the lights go down, a woman starts to harangue the audience, promising us a discomforting evening.
A cynical presence, she's most entertaining when she's talking about the show itself. When she interacts with the other performers, she becomes less interesting, inflicting predictable humiliations.
There are plenty of those. Putting their clothes back on, the men stand in a line, repeatedly slapping their own faces, their cheeks reddening. St-Pierre's scenes of embarrassment don't tell us what drives these people. The idea of "a little tenderness" is obvious: people hurting each other as they seek some connection. Yet both the hurt and the tenderness are by rote.
While St-Pierre is working hard at being scandalous, he uses gender stereotypes so casually that I wonder if he's noticed them. His use of male nudity tends to be comic. A dozen naked men put on blonde wigs and squeak through baby talk. When the women take their clothes off, it's much more about display and vulnerability.
Each time the dancers jump into the audience, it's the men who confront the spectators, climbing over the seats, demanding a response. The women perform unconvincing catfights in the aisles, stealing each other's dresses. St-Pierre might be making a point about the way men and women behave in society, but it looks more accidental than that. Perhaps he just thinks willies are funnier.
The piece ends with a moment of innocence. Naked dancers splash and slide in spilled water. The happy ending, the water, even the Arvö Part music are familiar dance theatre devices. For an enfant terrible, St-Pierre is very conventional.
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