Compagnie Bal / Jeanne Mordoj, La Poème | Photo: Camille Sauvage

Compagnie Bal / Jeanne Mordoj: La Poème

Compagnie Bal / Jeanne Mordoj, La Poème | Photo: Camille Sauvage

Jeanne Mordoj is ‘a formidable contortionist and juggler, a mischievous feminist and former bearded lady’. Her latest work, La Poème, is premiering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, presented under the Crying Out Loud banner. And it is a delight!

The structure of the piece is deceptively simple. Lone performer Mordoj makes a slow journey from her starting point upstage, moving at various speeds, at various levels. She advances, then retreats. There’s music and sound effects, there’s object manipulation. But mostly there’s Mordoj and her amazing physical presence, so perfectly in control of her body in this space, so beautifully in communication with her audience, that it feels as though the whole world is here in this journey. It’s a journey that explores the tug between the ‘civilised’ and the ‘savage’; a journey that celebrates the wise and sometimes wanton woman of folklore; a journey that asks what it means to be human, female, fecund.

Mordoj starts silk-suited and booted, clutching a hand-held harmonium, singing an ethereal song. She conjures eggs from thin air, and spirits them away – mostly in her mouth, it seems. The eggs seem to infest her with a wild animal spirit – she crows and clucks and cavorts to a Calypso tune. She has big hamster cheeks and bulging eyes, gurning madly. She seemingly lays more eggs, shells crunched on the floor by the high-heeled shoes of her dancing feet. Her head and neck seem to move separately to the rest of her body. The soundscape morphs into a distorted mambo and jungle roars and rustles. The top half of her suit is discarded, and her shoulders, elbows and forearms take over the voodoo dance. Her breasts take on a life of their own, flesh coloured falsies emerging to be manipulated in all sorts of ingenious ways. Her belly rolls and undulates. More eggs, and ever-more ingenious uses for them. A yolk slithers up one arm, across her shoulder blades and down the other arm. This is juggling, but not as we know it.

Every movement is beautifully precise, controlled, imbued with joy and humour. There’s a twinkle in her eye as she comes ever-closer, then retreats again to the upstage land of the goddesses who gently beguile us with song. What a pleasure and an honour to see a performer in such control of her body, and of the imaginary world that she has created on a bare stage, armed with little more than a box of eggs, a harmonium, and a pretty green silk skirt. A truly inspirational, Shamanistic almost, solo performance.

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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.