Register Wednesday | June 26 | 2019

The Apple of Apollo's Eye

Choreographer Isabelle Van Grimde's Saetta

Isabelle Van Grimde’s Saetta, with its all-white stage and grey-clad dancers, feels as sharp and clean as the first winds of winter. The word saetta, “arrow” in Italian, provides an extremely apt metaphor for the piece. It suggests definitive movement and precise trajectories that require a steady aim from both the choreographer in the creation and the dancers in the performance. No wonder Van Grimde puts a large eye on the back wall at the beginning of the piece: we’re in the highly ordered world of Apollo, that lover of dance, music, austere aesthetics and, appropriately enough, archery. Saetta is to a great extent a meditation on the geometry of space. Philippe Dupeyroux’s lighting design slashes the stage with a diagonal slant of light, along which dancers occasionally move, throwing the square stage into relief. The dancers further draw attention to the contours of their performance space by hanging out on the perimeter and watching with impassive alertness while other dancers perform solos, duos and trios. In the second half of the program, the diagonal slash becomes a small square of light--a miniature stage within the stage--refocusing the dancers’ movements and groupings around that more compressed space. At the end of the piece, the small square is replaced by another large eye, its blue cornea radiating fiery colours along the floor like a supernova. As the lights go down, the dancers contemplatively circle what seems to have been the inspiration for their movement. Apollo would have approved. Saetta is also about the body in arrowlike motion. Dancers do not so much move as slice through space: arms “windmill” the air; legs split wide open in multiple, rapid scissor jumps; torsos tilt downward in penchés, the extended back leg sweeping in a high arc over to the side. Even in simple gestures, Van Grimde maintains the arrow motif. In one recurring posture, the dancers place a hand on the back of the rib cage, elbow jutting out, as if to say, “Oh, my aching back”; yet in spite of its Advil connotations, the gesture evokes an arrowhead—or a bow being pulled taut in the moment just before release—and maintains a certain elegance. Chanti Wadge, Erin Flynn, Brianna Lombardo and Robert Meilleur perform all such choreography cleanly and calmly, even in moments when the pace intensifies. It would be misleading, however, to imply that Saetta is merely a visual exercise. The score, composed by Marie-Hélène Fournier, was performed onstage by cellist Alexis Descharmes and pianist Yukari Bertocchi-Hamada. Onstage musicians can sometimes unintentionally upstage the dancing, but the two arts in Saetta work together seamlessly, not as competing entities—a tribute to the successfully collaborative nature of the piece. After the heavy psychology of Les Grands Ballet Canadiens’ recently updated Cinderella and the violence, alienation and political nature of works performed at FIND (Festival international de nouvelle danse), Saetta is a refreshing gust of simple and austere beauty, a performance without an agenda. Apollonian indeed.
Saetta runs November 5-8 and 12-15 at L’Agora de la Danse, 840 Cherrier Street, Montreal. (514) 525-1500.