image looks very familiar to you. You know you’ve seen her somewhere, that
young woman with porcelain skin and ornate attire. Here’s a hint: there is an elegant white unicorn by her
side in each of the six tapestries she is in. A masterpiece featured in Paris’ Musée de Cluny, “La Dame à La Licorne” (The Lady and the Unicorn) is the thread that
runs along the choreographic score woven by Gaëlle Bouges. The performance
borrowed the enigmatic and evocative title of the sixth tapestry, “À mon seul désir” (To My Sole Desire). Over
the years, this 15th century treasure elicited many an
interpretation, yet the questions still remain: what is this pleasure that ignites La
Dame à La Licorne? Is it carnal, or is it spiritual?
unicorn symbolized chastity in medieval lore, since only pure young girls can approach
them. Interestingly, the creature’s predominant single horn can also have a
phallic connotation. The unicorn thus denotes two different concepts: virginity
and eroticism. This ambivalence inspired the French choreographer to examine the
female purity culture in the West. Representations of virgins – the most iconic
being Mother Mary – adorned European iconography for centuries. Why has the
notion of female virginity been scrutinized and disseminated with such fervor, and
why hasn’t its male equivalent received the same amount of attention?
status now elevated to symbol of female desire, the elegant Lady is embodied by
four dancers exuding their femininity and their nudity. The Lady’s bestiary
accompanies her on this journey. Six scenes unravel an allegory of the five
senses, as depicted on the first five tapestries. Shrouded in mystery, the
final scene unveils the sixth sense. It starts with a young woman facing a jewelry
box. Is she about to adorn herself in finery, or is she undressing and putting
away her jewels? The dancers suddenly burst into the stage in a lively
farandole, and with them come a swarm of rabbits (a symbol of lust), foxes,
lions, monkeys… Don’t be surprised if the bodies may seem familiar to you, since
this bestiary is composed of volunteers recruited by Festival de la Cité.
Gaëlle Bourges’ piece Lascaux was featured in the 2016 edition
of the Festival. With “A mon seul désir,”
she continues her exploration of the spaces between performance art, visual art
and historical representation in Fine Arts. The result, according to the press,
is a stunning and unusual piece.