at Warwick Arts Centre, Thursday 26th April 2012
I’m know very little about dance. In fact, I’m a bit of a philistine. I don’t watch dance as much as I really ought to and if it’s a choice between that and theatre, it’s always the latter I plump for. The beauty of Dave St-Pierre’s Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde(‘A little tenderness for crying out loud’), however, is its accessibility to those of us who know next to nothing about the form, and the way in which it mixes dance, speech and play (not forgetting significant amounts of nudity) creates some of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced in the theatre.
Much has been written about this show, most of which has focussed on the “explicit adult material” featured in the first twenty minutes, which features seven nude male dancers climbing over the audience, sticking their nether-regions the faces of audience members and generally trying to provoke us. There’s a reason for this (admittedly excessive) charade, however, for after this moment the nudity in the rest of the show isn’t the focus. This is the ‘worst’ bit, but it’s absolutely necessary in order to desensitize us and draw attention to the intellectual message.
Sabrina, our guide for the evening, tells us at the beginning that she “passionately” hates tenderness; she suggests it covers up our animalistic, brutal desires, expressed during sequences which see the dancers rhythmically slapping themselves. As the piece progresses, however, tenderness slowly manages to find its way back in, following a heart-wrenching moment during which a female dancer moves alone in a rectangle of light, being systematically rejected by the male members of the ensemble.
Sometimes, Dave St-Pierre’s production becomes indulgent, and dances go on for about twice as long as they perhaps need to; the same message could be conveyed with twenty minutes chopped off the running time. The exposes on “breaking the fourth wall” come across as pointless after the opening, and don’t add anything to the discussion of ‘tenderness’. In one section, we’re asked to join in with a Mexican wave, which is extraneous and stifles the surrounding scenes.
From my little knowledge, it’s clear the dancing utilised here is nothing short of stunning. As moves are endlessly repeated, the strength of the company becomes evident as we become aware of their sheer stamina and the sounds their bodies are making. The dances are messy but mesmerizing, almost hypnotizing us as bodies dart, glide and plod along the stage. These are by far the strongest moments of the piece, and every time the show shifts to narration, we long for the dancers to arrive again.
St-Pierre manages to offer us laugh-out-loud comedy and devastating sadness through simple use of dance and speech. Luke Jennings said that in this show, he had an encounter which was “the most unpleasant I’ve ever had in a theatre”. I can think of worse productions, where I’ve had to question my own opinion on racism, sexism and more, being challenged in a way which has made me feel broken and demeaned. Un peu de tendresse, on the other hand, does the opposite; it offers a joyous, uplifting experience which leaves us not knowing exactly what to think. Indeed, quite the contrary to Jennings, I believe that the finale of this show, which uses an image of utter tenderness, is perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in a theatre. It’s worth going through the rest of it just for that.