Women have been at the center of Western dance history, usually as performers, dancing out the fantasies of male choreographers and audiences. Within the last century, however, women choreographers since Martha Graham have presented alternative points of view about the female experience—and male choreographers have sometimes followed suit. Harold Rheaume’s C.O.R.R. (Nocturne) takes up this theme with a quiet restraint.
Performed at L’Agora de la Danse in Montreal (Dec.18-20), C.O.R.R. was the last work of the space’s fall program. Back in September, the Agora had opened its season, appropriately enough, with another choreographic consideration of the female experience (and, more largely, memory)—Jane Mappin’s Cinq Voix, Cinq Visages. I am struck by how different these two pieces are: Mappin’s work overflows with female performers (five adult dancers, five young girls, and two singers), video projections, and a very lengthy script. Rheaume’s piece, on the other hand, is much more sparse in its production: three dancers (Anne Bruce Falconer, Catherine Tardiff, Lydia Wagerer), a few lighting effects, and a simple set piece designed for the floor.
C.O.R.R. derives its name from the initials of the piece’s three female characters—Clémence, Odile, and Rose (the last initial being Rheaume’s, presumably). The subtitle, “Nocturne,” suggests Rheaume’s concern with the later stages in life, specifically the lives of women as they move into old age. One of the three dancing woman, in long tunic and with heavy steps, seemed to be pregnant; another, in her old age; while the third, “middle-aged,” provided support to the other two.
The piece uses a circle on the floor and four low, red platforms placed along the circle’s edge to create the quarter-hours on a clock’s face. This highly defined space (which gets smaller and smaller as tighter circles of light appear in the middle) confines the women’s movements (they stay within or along the circle’s outline) and reminds us that life is a journey shaped by (and through) time.
Overall, the pace is slow, measured, and meditative, not unlike a Japanese Botuh performance (though without its grotesques). The dance vocabulary is minimal in scope and the movements themselves are very subtle performed. Rheaume works with small gestures like a hand simply placed on the abdomen. When moving together, the women hold hands; at other times, they support one another’s faltering bodies. Complementing these quiet movements is original music by Katia Makdissi and Jean-Francois Pedno, which is moving without being mawkish (particularly the string quartet portions).
While Rheaume highlights womanly compassion, occasionally someone is left to her own devices, reminding us in a larger sense that we are neither entirely alone nor always sympathetically accompanied: a refreshing, balanced perspective in comparison to many choreographers’ tendency these days to obsess about the profound alienation of modern life.
In the middle of the piece, one of the dancers begins to speak in low tones about water (though much of what she said was hard to make out) and the blue, murky lighting that appears at the end of her speech underlies the connection often made between water and women (Mappin’s piece made use of the water metaphor as well). The monologue was mercifully short—too much speechifying in dance performances is often unnecessary if the choreography is well-considered to begin with. At last fall’s F.I.N.D., the American choreographer-dancers Anthony Rizzi and Meg Stuart spoke so much, and danced so little, I wondered why their audiences didn’t revolt. Rheaume resists sticking too many words in his dancers’ mouths and trusts their bodies to do the communicating.
I enjoyed the quietness of C.O.R.R., but when the piece finished, I felt as if the performance somehow wasn’t over. A pity that neither a companion piece to C.O.R.R. (called F.U.L.L.) nor Rheaume’s Les Cousins (about the male experience) were performed as well. I suspect that the restraint of this piece would have found an illuminating contrast in either of these, and made for a richer experience for audiences.
Kena Herod is the dance critic for Maisonneuve. Read her examination of the career of the great twentieth-century choreographer George Balanchine (“How to Follow Mr. B?”) in Issue 9.