Eloge du Poil

Conceived and performed by Jeanne Mordoj
Barbican Pit

Production photo

Roll up, roll up, take your seats and prepare to be amazed - the bearded lady is in town courtesy of Jeanne Mordoj.

This bearded lady has much more to offer than just her beard. In her 65 minute show Mordoj assumes a variety of roles and proceeds to perform numerous 'acts' each with a slight twist.

Instead of throwing swords, what look like long BBQ skewers are plunged into a painting, a tyre replaces a hula hoop for bodily undulation and after constructing an oversized dance ribbon with a stick and piece of paper, Modoj rolls about the floor playing with it like an excited Andrex puppy.

Mordoj has trained extensively in circus and this shows. Her acts are well thought out and playfully challenge assumptions. The audience can't help but whoop with joy and gasp in amazement as she attempts her various feats.

Shells are thrown on the floor, picked up and tossed effortlessly into a washbasin balancing on Mordoj's head. This itself is impressive, but considering she does this with her feet in a variety of contortionist like poses, it certainly has the wow factor.

Mordoj breathes life into everything she touches, like a God. A ram and badger's skull come alive with the touch of a hand. Trying to sing his operatic tune, the old set in his ways ram is constantly interrupted by the lively inquisitive badger who proceeds to mock him in her interpretation of a ventriloquist act.

If only Monsieur Badger wasn't so annoying he would have escaped the ordeal of being placed in a steel box with his fellow brother badger, let alone having BBQ skewers plunged into holes in the box and then being the victims of ducking.

Aware that the skulls are dead and inanimate in reality, the audience still gasps as if they were alive and being subjected to torture, such is the power of Mordoj's ventriloquism. When the brother is revealed as dead, the audience mourn and let out a huge sigh of relief when Monsieur Badger finally starts to breathe again. Here one is reminded of the constant power battles in life and how, in reality, it is impossible to take control; there will always be somebody willing to play God.

Mordoj uses an egg to demonstrate this and after breaking open the shell, slides the yolk over her body like a footballer showing off his ball skills. When the yolk breaks, another life is over after being subjected to torture. Mordoj says she is giving the yolk a view of the world it will never get to see.

Shells and skulls feature heavily, with death being a key theme. Modoj even performs her own burial as the grand finale, piling earth on top of her with the motto that burial is the ultimate consolation for life.

This is more a piece about life and death than performing femininity. The beard is merely a device through which the frame of circus can be employed, whilst reminding us that we are all freaks of society in some way; normal does not exist. Bearded or not, all should celebrate what they have been blessed with. As Modoj states, we should savour each stage of our decomposition; a rather macabre way of saying enjoy life - we shall all be a shell of our former self one day when the end finally comes, so fear it not.

Eloge du Poil is an exploration of sounds, textures, movement and what it means to be alive. Mordoj's mesmerizing performance demonstrates that she is a master craftsman of performance art, mime, physical theatre and clowning. If such artistry is the result of simply donning a beard then we should all, as the title suggest, most definitely praise hairiness.

Playing until 30th January 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen