Two to tango: Still Standing You

Still Standing You: dancers Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido show the many, many things you can do with a body.

Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido in Still Standing You. Photo by Phile Deprez.

To a packed house at Théâtre La Chappelle Tuesday evening, dancers Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido engaged in a duet of the kind you couldn’t have imagined, nor one you’d soon forget. Still Standing You was lucky the audience was sitting.

Recently I saw a pas de deux performed by two male dancers: it was sinewy and graceful, the partnering generous and fluid, and clearly the product of years of training which prepares one for maximum effort with minimum evidence thereof. Still Standing You is nothing like that. It is an iconoclastic kind of dance by which the roles within a partnership — as friends, lovers and combatants — are continuously pushed to their limit. It was surprising, hilarious and impossible to look away from — even when they played a kind of acrobatic Russian Roulette with each other’s penises or used their leather belts as dueling weapons on bare skin. Their growls and roars, peeping and panting furnished the soundtrack — not to mention the delighted squeals and disbelieving din of the audience.

It had already begun (and innocently enough), by the time the gregarious crowd was finally permitted entrance to the La Chappelle theatre: the Belgian Ampe, in a green t-shirt, and the Portuguese Garrido, in red-orange jeans, had composed themselves into a human sculpture, a precarious balance of weight, of colour — even of European poles of cultural identity.

Ampe lay on his back, legs raised to ninety degrees, his feet a seat supporting Garrido, perched insouciantly, his legs crossed. After a droll intro/comedy act — during which Garrido (the spokesperson for the two) endeared them (en anglais, même!) to the (largely francophone) audience — Pietr, who had been grimacing and shaking with the effort of supporting his chatty counterpart for some time, suddenly launched his oppressor across the floor. It was a clear signal that the roles of supporter and attacker, of victor and vanquished, of animal and human, would oscillate with every new scenario.

What followed was a series of entanglements, provocations and attacks that used every physical and material prop at their disposal: not just their bodies, but their clothing (which was eventually torn off or repurposed as headgear), their spit and sweat, and their vocal cords. Through various contortions and guttural noises they made passing allusions to our simian cousins and wild feline friends, and at times there was something rather Schmiegel-ly about Ampe’s comportment (though his full red beard said “Dwarf,” to continue the Lord of the Rings reference).

By the time the proverbial gloves had really come off you could say that the most vulnerable part of the male anatomy became the central focus, both of infantile wonderment and of violence. As someone not blessed with this apparatus, the many demonstrations of its versatility were enlightening: there are so many uses for a penis other than urination and sex! Have you ever seen someone yell into someone else’s stretched-wide foreskin as though it were a megaphone? Have you seen the end of a penis pulled so hard it stayed pinched shut for a long time after it had been released from the merciless grip?

But to be yourself held too long in thrall of these aspects, as hilarious and shocking as they may be, threatens to diminish the greatest strength of this performance, which is to say their complex partnership expressed, with total commitment, through pure (abject) physicality. And it wasn’t all smacks and spit-smears: there are moments of repose where they climb on each other and suddenly their bodies fit together like sweaty pieces of a two-part jigsaw. I’m remembering here the “folded-man walking quadroped,” where one was draped over the other, front end to back end, hands gripping thighs and ankles. As this ungainly creature lurched across the stage I forgot whose leg or back belonged to whom. I noticed in particular the way their hands grasped the limbs of the other: it was a strong but caring grip that articulated a deep knowing and familiarity. And so it often is with such a bond between two people: it might hurt or be really funny, but at the end of it, it’s love. ■

Still Standing You, To Feb. 16, Le Théâtre La Chapelle (3700 St-Dominique), 8 p.m., $28.50- $38.50

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