Wicked from head to tail
A slap in the face; painful, but paradoxically not unpleasant. That is a short synopsis of the latest production by Ann Van den Broek, in which three ‘femmes fatales’ are enticed to let themselves be taken over by unstoppable lustful urges. I have seldom seen performers in a dance production lose themselves so completely in the action on stage. Shamelessly, with total abandon and emphatically out to provoke passionate reactions.
Co(te)lette opens with a defiant first act, which sets the tone right away. Their sensually gyrating behinds are screaming for attention. There is no escaping the sashaying and humping hips of the ladies. The power of repetition is used to its utmost effect. The movements and poses in the first scene are wicked, sensuous and relentless. And they will remain so from start to finish in this performance. The intensity is heightened with every scene creating in many ways, a suspenseful, erotic and abstract narrative.
In successive miniatures they are laid bare – literally and figuratively. In the end the sensual pulsating, the spread-eagled shaking and the aggressively removed bras and panties turn into a fascinating orgiastic trip. It might come across as vulgar and could give the impression that Van den Broek is out to score easy points. To shock for the sake of shocking.
And indeed we are faced by female flesh exhibited in a very raw way; purposefully displayed as unemotional lust objects. The somewhat banal title of the choreography only seems to emphasize this, nevertheless in my opinion this is not just cheap sensationalism. Van den Broek shows us fiery, confident woman who are not hostile to the notion that their bodies are desirable. In fact, the feelings of lust sprout from an inner need. This is what the women want. They are curious, they want to expand their boundaries and yes, they do not shy away from sexual excess.
As far as the title goes: it is actually far from cheap and subtly covers it all. The references to the flesh aspect are clearly present – cotelette is a cut of meat in Flemish. Yet at the same time the title also refers to a feminist emotional value. Emancipated women take matters into their own hands when it comes to sex.
And if you ignore the brackets in Co(te)lette and the two letters locked in there, you’ll see the name appear of a pioneer in this area: the famous French artist and writer — mostly the latter — Colette (1873-1954). Van den Broek sees in her the determined, liberated woman for whom a healthy appetite for sex is part of life in every respect.
Colette, who also enjoyed a career in the theater, wrestled with stereotypical gender roles in her novels, and on stage she went beyond convention portraying sexual escapades. She dreamt of a new social and erotic order where men and women were equal. Like Colette, who regularly bared her breasts on stage and — unheard of those days — performed copulation in pantomime, Van den Broek lets her dancers perform a scandalous round dance. Explicit, uncomplicated and sometimes very embarrassing indeed, but at the same time the images in this choreography are of an indescribable esthetic beauty. But in no way are they sweet or elegant, because the choreography is rarely tender. In many ways, this piece is rather crude. Cecilia Moisio, Theodossia Stathi and Judit Ruiz Onandi stomp their feet, fall on the floor and lash out. In that sense the bitter self-flagellation scene is the ‘tragic’ climax. The women mechanically slap themselves till their skin is bright red; you can’t read the pain on their faces, but it is an extremely painful realization.
The Belgian choreographer herself has called her creation a ‘restless, obsessive, hollow sketch’. There is no narrative; all it does is show a state of being.
In her previous production, E19 (richting San José) which came out in 2006, Van den Broek showed she had grown out of the label ‘promising talent’ for good. The form and the content of this latest creation are definite proof that she is now a mature choreographer with a style that is quite personal and unique.
R. van de Wouw, Het Financieele Dagblad, December 15, 2007
Co(te)lette draws a somber picture of womanhood
It is Adam’s rib (côte) from which God created Eve, according to the Bible. It is the controversial writer Colette. It is the bitchy kitty in heat of one of Ann Van den Broek’s (the choreographer of the piece) friends. And of course it’s also a cut of meat – mostly meat, in fact, when you think back on the performance later. Shaking, bumping, grinding, gasping female meat – ‘carried’ by three female dancers as if it weren’t their own body, but one possessed by inner forces or controlled by outside powers.
They wear ultra-feminine clothes, but hidden underneath the white split skirts, the silver pumps and pale pink tops is a far less sweet image of womanhood: the woman as lust object. Yearning and desirable meat, in other words. Cecilia Moiso, Judit Ruiz Onandi and Theodossia Stathi go through all the stages and poses. They know how a graceful model moves and how a strong woman stands. They ‘ride’ each other and the floor like dogs, they hump the air with their thighs – all three of them: on their knees, asses to the audience.
But it’s not as innocent as it sounds. The picture of women that Van den Broek draws is not very favorable. A frightened look, slapping themselves till their skin is red, abusing each other: they are all tiny cracks in the porcelain.
What makes Co(te)lette deeply disturbing is the choreography. As usual, Van den Broek uses narrative movements in such a way that they become abstract. A threatening finger, an enticing laugh: she cuts and pastes the poses together, repeats them over and over again, and uses the circle form as the underlying concept and behold: what you get is a minimalist dance with a dash of theatrics; a style that is unique in the dance world at this time. In the context of Co(te)lette, the repetitive character gives it a cold and mechanical connotation. The same hand stretched out longingly to the audience later becomes a bored mechanical gesture. Movements meant to be erotic become as deadening as assembly-line work.
The dancers are very close to their bodies and at the same time they are miles away from it. An impressive achievement and a weird sensation: a positive and a negative that cancel each other out into a kind of ‘nothingness’. The final image, which feels like it goes on for hours, is of a naked Moiso shivering, her muscles stretched to the limit, combines the two states beautifully: is this woman in agony or is she beside herself; is it a feverish ecstasy of an ecstatic fever that has taken hold of her?
Mirjam van der Linden, de Volkskrant, November 27, 2007