Lisbeth Gruwez & Penelope

Lisbeth Gruwez: ‘Penelope waits, struggling with time and longing. Her movement is that of standstill.’

Once all the verbal commotion made by the 24 men telling the story of the Odyssey has stormed across the stage, Lisbeth Gruwez presents a wordless reply of the purest simplicity: for twenty minutes she conjures up in dance all the sidelined women of the Odyssey, and thereby offers all these men a response.

This is the first time that Voetvolk are creating a piece on commission, in this case for the KVS. Their contribution to the Odysseus project is an epilogue: a footnote by Voetvolk. It is also different in many respects from their own productions, including We’re pretty fuckin’ far from okay, whose Belgian premiere is at KVS on 9 February.

Lisbeth Gruwez wants to add an open end to Odysseus by reducing the verbal abundance to a non-verbal nil. No trickerio, no deceptio: she uses only her own body to represent Penelope’s waiting and other elements.

As Lisbeth remarks, ‘Penelope waits, struggling with time and longing. Her movement is that of standstill.’ This moulds this unique combination of movement and standstill into the form of a spiral: a figure that is simultaneously limited and unlimited. Her aim is to conceive of time not as linear, but as circular.

After all, ‘has there actually ever been an end to the cycle of violence that the Odyssey depicts?’ According to Lisbeth, this is the main question in the poem. She interprets it in its entirety as an eternal recurrence of (male) violence: a cycle of trial and error, of attack and relapse.

In this interpretation, Penelope – and by extension women in general – are the symbol of commitment and reconciliation, while the male idiom of glory and heroism leads only to division.

But a great many other women are also given a non-verbal voice in addition to the home-loving Penelope. Lisbeth tries to display both the femme fatale and the tomboy. The nymphs and the sirens, Calypso and Circe. She aims to magnify and bring out the most diverse aspects of being a woman that are contained within her body.

As per usual, she does all this under the guidance of Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, her established partner at Voetvolk, who develops music that both underpins and challenges solo like a sort of counterpoint. Together, they intend to (briefly) solidify time.