Edinburgh Fringe 2013
In the West we view the ageing process in a very negative way, and even more so older women. Cie Herve-Gil takes five older women and places them centre stage to play with this idea and turn it on its head. It’s an encounter between women who met in the 1980s, lost touch and are meeting again now and reflecting on time passing.
Liver spots in English, fleurs de cimetiere or graveyard flowers in French, a more beautiful but nonetheless harsh reminder of the ageing process. In some civilisations, ageing is revered and valued; older people are seen as repositories of wisdom. In Western society, ageing is feared and older people’s value unchampioned. Older women, in particular, are rendered invisible.
In Herve-Gil’s mesmerising dance piece for five older women, the idea of struggling desperately to retain youth is given short shrift and older women are placed centre stage in full view. She uses a mixture of spoken word and dance to give voice to her ideas in a witty and eloquent performance that is a celebration of women and of age.
Five lime green French garden chairs, jumpers slung over them, await in a semi circle to the right of the stage. Five older women enter and start to dance, feeling the movement of their bodies, exploring themselves through dance. They preen, they strut, they examine their bodies with curiousity. And in quiet pauses, as they sit, one woman out of kilter with the rest, asks ‘Can I speak?’ ‘Is it a good time?’. “No’, the other women reply as they flounce off into uniformly choreographed dance, swept along by the busyness of life. ‘Twenty?’, the observer spits scathingly, “Twenty? You wait all your life for twenty and then it’s gone.’
And so the dance goes on, an oblivious march against the passing of time, with the observer stepping outside to provide commentary, but unable to get the words out, ‘I can’t say what I wanted to say, the words are all tangled up’. But when they finally allow to speak, she does so with a movingly funny dissection of the ageing process. Perhaps it’s only at 50 and beyond that we can look back and make some sense of our lives.
Herve-Gil’s choreography is eloquent and graceful, the movement conveying the meaning. The moves are repetitive and fully accomplished, perfectly attuned to and showcasing the dancers. The stage is simply set with only the five chairs and unobtrusive lighting. The women are barefoot and move through their environment creating scenes of everyday life through their movement without props or other aids. All the women are fifty plus and put in deeply beautiful performances that show that age need be no impediment to expression.
An eclectic mix of music accompanies the piece including a Gluck aria, Piaf, Bush, Vivaldi and Greco as well as the Scottish The Good Looking Widow. Wittily, a Barra walking song is speeded up as the performers walk and hasten their pace accordingly.
Herve Gil presents us with a shrewd insight into the absurdities of how older women are viewed. ‘Oh, to be a man’, she says – maybe that is the solution. But as the dancers look down at their hands and find that space of unwithered skin between finger and thumb, they find that inner youth that sustains us all as we age.
Herve-Gil has created a piece that celebrates older women but above all that urges us to waken up and live rather than just letting life go by.