Reviews Dance Published 4 June 2011

Dave St-Pierre Company

Sadler's Wells ⋄ 2nd -4th June 2011

The Canadian company let it all hang out.

Sam Smith

Live Flesh. Photo: Dave St-Pierre

Dave St-Pierre’s Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! has been accused of being tasteless and obscene, but although the nudity is sometimes (quite literally) in-your-face, I believe that making an audience feel slightly uncomfortable is fair game in contemporary dance where shock can still be a vital weapon. My main problem with this piece is that,  in its quest to be challenging, it actually ends up being quite boring.

Tendresse (2006) is the second in a triptych of works from the renowned Montreal-based Dave St-Pierre Company. The first, La pornographie des âmes (2004), explored the pain of being dumped, and Tendresse meditates on the overwhelming desire for connection. The fact that the dancers spend much of the evening naked, exposing both their bodies and their emotional vulnerability, draws attention to their loneliness. The piece begins with a scene of couples meeting; there is elegance in the man’s initial gestures to the woman but as he continues to stare stony-faced at her, she becomes increasingly desperate for his affection, working up from gentle pleading to something that comes close to self-mutilation.

This is followed by a sequence in which a group of blonde-wigged naked men invade the auditorium, tumbling on top of spectators and asking for a tickle. This section features no music or dancing and contains a real sense of  anarchy. There is initially an element of humour in this onslaught, but the sight of the women tearing into each other in the aisles, with a ferocity that would seem to verge on rape, is far more disturbing (and clearly this sequence crossed the line for some).

Once the premise of disconnection and the novelty of all this bare flesh has been established, the piece struggles to maintain the audience’s interest and the pacing flags. Though Tendresse includes several highly physical routines, with the male performers somersaulting across the floor, this high level of energy isn’t enough to sustain it. There are also a number of narrative sequences which only disrupt the pace of the piece; the woman who acts as narrator cruelly shuns the attentions of a male performer, but her monologues on shooting deer add little to proceedings. The lines inserted especially for a London audience, (‘I will lock you in the Tower of London’, she announces at one point) feel particularly lame, and her scripted asides about trying to liven up a weary audience ring all too true.

Tendresse is an attempt to meditate on loneliness, but any impact is thwarted by a strong sense of a piece outstaying its welcome. The production as a whole comes across as self-indulgent. Interesting individual moments, such as a sequence where the male performers repeatedly slap themselves as they reluctantly face up to being adults, are undermined by the length of time they spend prior to this screaming in their wigged, naked state. I have no objections to the nudity but, in this case, it is debatable how much it really contributes to the potency of the piece.

The final scene is by far the most engaging and goes some way towards counterbalancing the production’s more turgid moments. On a water soaked stage the cast slither and slide gracefully, their naked bodies finding an affinity with the smooth black surface. This routine is beautifully measured in pace, becoming more frenetic and then settling down as the performers embrace as couples. Perhaps the most outrageous moment in Tendresse include men (apparently) masturbating under their wigs before  flinging sticky fluid from their bodies.  Some cheered boisterously at the end, but others had left the theatre long before this and, judging from overheard mutters, the principle reason for their departure was  boredom.


Sam Smith is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Dave St-Pierre Company Show Info

Produced by Dave St-Pierre Company


Running Time 1 hours 50 minutes (no interval)



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