Review of OLD in Le Devoir by Catherine Lalonde
We were all OLD, all old, Thursday evening at the premiere of the new choreographic creation by the great Margie Gillis. We were all old, all old, a majority of whiteheads; and all moved, even before entering the room for what is announced as the last full evening of dance for this star of contemporary dance. Moved to have had the joy and the chance, during his 50-year career, to see and receive her dance. Moved to see her, in this pure Gillis evening, still dancing, at 69, this dance which brings us back to heart. To see her dance for us, in front of us, with us; danced by her.
We can’t be critical, we can’t even pretend : Margie Gillis was the image of dance in Quebec even before your journalist began to take an interest in dance. During recreational jazz ballet lessons on Saturday mornings at the École de danse de Québec, during professional training, during shows and performances, during the decade of dance reviews written for Le Devoir, Margie Gillis was part of the landscape. A muse, an inspiration, a role model. This soloist, a pioneer of contemporary dance and local dance, a strong woman, proud of her body and her femininity, the first to bring contemporary dance to China, who was interested in it before anyone else, we saw her dancing, often.
We also saw her resist with incredible grace, thanks to a hostile Sun News interview and the arrival of a business model from the Ballets jazz de Montréal, suddenly very competitive for the dance world, which put sticks on her in her existing choreographies. We have seen her begin to bequeath, to dancers, to young people in schools, to work with them, the transmission, the plasticity of the brain through dance. A dancing mother.
The affective writings
And Gillis magic works in OLD again, perhaps even more mysteriously, even more fascinatingly now that the creator’s physical virtuosity has waned. We see her persona as the performer continues to grow, to flourish. It is rooted in the intimate and shared experience of dance. In the clarity of intentions, and above all, in an astonishing mastery of relationships — with the breath, the emotions, the movement, the space, the room. For OLD, Ms. Gillis attempts a rare narrative unity, a complete evening-story, in this scenography of rickety old furniture, scraps from antique shops, when she has devoted most of her life and her shows to multiple solos. The piece remains composed, we feel, of fragments.
As often with Gillis, the choreography is not impervious to criticism, relying above all on an emotional writing – which includes work on space, energy, movement. There are blunders: the multimedia attempt, despite the beautiful desire to leave a legacy of the dancer’s philosophy; abrupt transitions, especially technically, for example. And as always with Gillis, without understanding why, we don’t care, we ignore it as there is something else.
The same mystery in front of this use of clichés, which by virtue of it are not clichés, which are no longer clichés since it reinjects so much meaning into them that it brings us back to the origin of the image, of the metaphor, often literal. There are clichés of gesture, in this “mimography” which is part of his hyper-talking, very porous signature. There are aesthetic clichés. Think of those of old age, she passes them almost all, sometimes in literal image: the door which will separate her from us, the stopped clock, the rocking chair which prevents her from moving, the white wedding dress to waltz towards the end, the petals falling from the sky, even the Chinese shadow of the bird fleeing to the sky like a soaring soul, made with flapping hands. Already seen ? Kitsch? Why then do we cry hot tears, hoping that it will not end? Perhaps because of the miraculous moments, like when Gillis repeatedly sings Sarah Hester’s “I’m my mother’s savage daughter” a capella, in different tones, slowly coming towards us, and our hearts explode. ?
Because it’s her, because it’s us
Margie Gillis is the embodiment of an earthly code, which is all the more moving because we are perhaps losing the way and the content. Her vision of the spiritual in art does not make her a disconnected priestess waiting for the divine to be recognized in her; she is with us, she gives us access to it, opens the way for us. Her dance, her body, her flesh, her “unaging femininity”, the joy they give her and the movements they allow her bring us back to our bodies, our flesh, our sensualities, our joys. It is the dance of our ancestors, it is Isadora.
We’d like you to go there, because it’s her, because it’s us, and drag your daughters and sons there: but it’s full, says the Agora de la danse, full as an egg.