©Sasha Onyshchenko

Review of Literature of the body by Alina Apostolska

Margie Gillis: Happy who like Ulysses…

Last spring, presenting her solo “Old,” Margie Gillis declared that it would be her last, that she wouldn’t step on stage anymore. Yet the stage is her place, her life, her launching pad, for fifty years. She couldn’t help but return to it.

At 70, who else would be on stage, and in a solo performance no less? Who but Margie Gillis, the essential figure in Quebecois, Canadian, North American, and international contemporary dance? Margie Gillis is an icon, a living legend, as they say, and it’s not an exaggeration or a falsehood. She revolutionized the solo genre, not after fifty years, but right from the start, following in the footsteps of her beloved brother, who died too soon but remains ever present. Fortunately, Margie Gillis did not keep her promise: “Old” was her last solo (perhaps…), but not her last show, nor her final performance on stage. And what a stage it was, the Théâtre Maisonneuve thanks to Danse Danse, while “Old” was presented at the Agora de la danse in the magnificent Espace Danse that Montreal now boasts…

Thus, last week, she presented her creation for sixteen magnificent performers in a double bill entitled “Literature of the Body.” A reminder that as the queen of the solo, she is also, albeit less frequently, a choreographer for large groups, the antithesis of solo performance. And then, ultimately, she joins them to conclude the show together.

Literature of the Body, so many shared pleasures. Intensity, interiority, inner amplitude unfolding outward, the heart and body shared with the audience; breadth of worldview, connection to humanity with which one resonates; gestural amplitude, the unique vocabulary signed by Margie Gillis, the breadth of arms, leg extensions, impulses-propulsions, convolutions, and so much energetic fluidity in the body becoming a wave, a wave of desires but also a wave of impacts. All these characteristics are transmitted to the performers, mostly women.

Through this literature of the body, Margie Gillis, the dancer and avid reader, conveys what the body says with its own language. Here, she speaks of exile.

Exile from home, quest, loss, in mineral tones, attempts at reconciliation, a pervasive music with oriental accents. Exiles, refugees, immigrants, increasingly numerous inhabitants of the Earth, and increasingly numerous arrivals in Quebec, in Canada.

Exile also, because one is socially different, nonconforming, misunderstood, demanding, in search of love but also in doubt, in search of pleasure but also of freedom, like the characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses, a mythical novel, a text so dense, so demanding that Margie Gillis did not hesitate to successfully and respectfully borrow from it, to have excerpts read by great actors (Alex Bergeron, Gaëtan Leboeuf, Emmanuel Schwartz, Anne-Marie Cadieux) and to express the strength and depth through the bodies of her performers. Let’s name them, precisely: Chelsea Bonosky, Geneviève Boulet, Rachelle Bourget, Alexandra Caron, Isabel Cruz, Marc Daigle, Caitlin Griffin, Tessa Rae Kuz, Ruth Naomi Levin, Hoor Malas, Jason Martin, Lucy M. May, Annmaria Mazzini, Erin O’Loughlin, Alisia Pobega, Jerome Zerges. And Margie Gillis.

For ultimately, faced with exile, what else but the body? The body, our body, is indeed all we have, wherever we go, wherever we get lost, wherever we stray, wherever we discover and illuminate ourselves. From the emergence of the body at birth to its disappearance in death, does humanity have any other home than that, its own, its true home of flesh, blood, beats, falls, and reunions? Of movement. Just like in Du Bellay’s poem, “Happy who like Ulysses has made a beautiful journey… and can always rely on his body in motion.” Still and always in motion, Margie Gillis, and hopefully for a long time to come..

Alina Apostolska
February 13, 2024


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