Duels: Gender Wars in Dance

Cas Public’s new piece Duels pits dancers against one another in new choreography by Hélène Blackburn and Pierre Lecours.

Dancers Daphnée Laurendeau and Merryn Kritzinger fight it out.
Photo by Damian Siqueiros.

Fight your partner to the death. If you win, they can always be replaced anyway.

It’s a feeling that can come from living in a city with an endless supply of single people, or from witnessing a battle-style dance show with an unusually high number of performers: 21 of them in the case of Cas Public’s Duels, which includes the entire dance company plus a few choice guests. Hélène Blackburn and Pierre Lecours share choreography duties for the 20 short pieces that make up the programme.

Despite the possibilities that such a high volume of performers and pieces offer, the numbers are often repetitive. The opening prologue sets us up for what can be expected for most of the night: a man and a woman, the latter fragile and needing the help of a man to support her. When she loses the duel, another man picks her up from the floor, less out of compassion than opportunism.

In Duels’ second duet, Blackburn herself dances with Sébastien Cossette-Masse; it begins and ends with her lifting him and carrying him a few steps across the floor. It was a pleasure seeing Blackburn, who usually sticks to the role of choreographer, onstage.

There were few duets pairing the same gender, but the most subversive moments occur in straight couplings, as when Daniel Soulières and Merryn Kritzinger each lift each other off the floor independently of their gender or age difference. Or, in the duet with relative newcomers Virginie Brunelle and Alexandre Carlos, where the overall violence of the show finally lets up to give us something refreshingly gentler, with little physical contact. But the duel ends with Brunelle being carried off by another man while her partner goes on to dance with another woman.

A couple of men do figuratively put themselves in women’s shoes as they pull off a few ballerina steps. Soulières, lifted by three other men, dances above the ground as if he were lighter than a feather. Cai Glover, in his duet with Laurendeau, has a few brief moments on the tip of his toes, as though on pointes.

For the most part, Duels bathes in the themes that might be expected given the title of the show: couples, fighting, mirror images and sex. As the motionless bodies pile up onstage, it becomes clear that, as Pat Benatar put it, love is a battlefield. ■

Duels is on at Agora de la danse (840 Cherrier), Sept. 13-14, 19-21 8 p.m., Sept. 22 4 p.m., $32/$24 students

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