Cie SUMO/Mélissa Guex
A tail of string-like hair, decapitated from its body.
A boxing glove.
Rapunzel is one of many retellings that return fairytales to their gruesome roots. But Mélissa Guex’s solo stands out in glorious rage.
Shadowy and confined to a ring, she’s rotating as we enter, a music-box figurine whose mechanism has rusted. Painted lips, eyes and pearls constitute a display of camp which has festered. She enacts painful echoes of feminine regalness. Dust crumbles from her stuttering body.
Enter a red spotlight and ground-shaking bass. Rapunzel is pulled from turret to nightclub. Staccato gestures spurt outwards, fingers splayed. Guex’s commitment to each impact is a testament to the power of wordless storytelling. She demands we listen in solidarity with dust-laden damsels, no longer navigating distress.
Finally, with one delicious splash, her dismembered mane is thrust into the puddle at her feet – a delightfully hairy end.
The hair choreography comes late in Mélissa Guex’s Rapunzel. At the tail end of this solo, the Swiss performer and choreographer grabs a fantastically long mane, and starts whipping it over her head. Yet as it whooshes through the air, over and over, the choreographic momentum Guex had built up to that point wanes.
It’s a shame, because when she is unconstrained by props, this punk Rapunzel is arresting. Trapped in a shallow pool, she is surrounded by the audience on three sides, her statuesque poses made stranger by rows of pearls, bright boxing shorts and platform shoes. Half diva, half worn-out clown, she twitches through hand flourishes like a broken record – before morphing into a combative, independent figure.
With her offbeat physicality, Guex easily turns fairytale clichés on their head in these scenes. This Rapunzel needs no prince; perhaps she could even do with no hair at all.
It’s no surprise that a picture of the Swiss dancer and choreographer Mélissa Guex, from her solo Rapunzel, acts as a cover photo for this year’s Aerowaves festival. Her princess-averse costume grabs the attention: a skin-like top, orange shorts and a pearl necklace. Her face is painted in white and her wry expressions are scary rather than beautiful, yet she has a grace of her own.
When the music intensifies, she rises, stamping her feet, her arms moving powerfully. Later, the silence is broken by her lashing of a long braid made of strings, which she holds like a hunting gun, on the lookout for prey. Vibrant energy shoots out of her darkened tower – you shouldn’t get in her way.
What does a 21st-century princess look like? She doesn’t need to be saved. Is it a happy end? For Rapunzel, definitely. This particular fairy-tale should be passed down from generation to generation.