I caught a performance of the first mainstage show at the 2016 Vancouver International Dance Festival last night. Foutrement, by Compagnie Virginie Brunelle, explores the dynamics of a love triangle. It begins with dancers Isabelle Arcand and Simon-Xavier Lefebvre marching on stage in their underwear and wearing football padding on their upper torsos; oh yes, Arcand is also in point shoes. To the strains of "Casta Diva," from Bellini's Norma, Arcand rises on point, leaps straight up into the air and is caught by Lefebvre. This move repeats itself until Lefebvre loses interest, with Arcand nevertheless continuing to throw herself at her partner, and consequently falling to the ground at his feet as he retreats with indifference upstage.
In foregrounding from the outset the cliché of love as combat, Brunelle is also, necessarily, tackling (and here the football gear seems an appropriate metaphor) the highly gendered conventions of classical dance. But rather than exploding those conventions, in Foutrement it seems to me that Brunelle ends up reinforcing them. The point shoe, onto the toes of which Arcand repeatedly floats and flutters before Lefebvre, is an especially powerful physical reminder that in ballet, as Susan Leigh Foster has so eloquently put it, "she extends while he supports." In this respect, I found that, within the specific recent tradition of point work in contemporary dance emerging from Québec, Brunelle's choreographic ethos in Foutrement aligns more with Édouard Lock's fetishization of ballet shoes (and, by extension, the female leg to which they are appended) in the later performances of La La La Human Steps than with, say, Marie Chouinard's prosthetic deconstruction of the device in bODY rEMIX/the gOLDBERG vARIATIONS (notwithstanding Arcand's naked torso and the acoustic uses to which she sometimes puts her shoes).
Then, too, during the pirouettes and lifts and drags in the duet that follows the dancers' removal of their football padding, I couldn't help thinking about something else Foster has noted regarding the inequities embedded into classical dance partnering: whereas the woman mostly touches the man's hands, forearms or shoulders, he additionally grips her by her wrists, armpits, thighs, waist, buttocks, pubis and head. Add to this the fact that Lefebvre, though a gifted mover, is stocky bordering on flabby, whereas Arcand and fellow female dancer Claudine Hébert--who supplants Arcand in Lefebvre's affections later on in the piece--are rail thin, and you can perhaps see why the unexamined politics of this piece made me uneasy even as the technical virtuosity of the dancers blew my mind.