It is no secret that in terms of dance, Montreal is one of the most culturally alive cities in North America, with local and touring companies as well as freelancers at every level. True, the past year has seen setbacks: the discontinuation of FIND (Festival de Nouvelle Danse) last December, the temporary closing earlier this month of the Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault and the recent revelation that La La La Human Steps is $600,000 in debt. Yet every week brings new shows, by everyone from freshman choreographers to high-profile troupes such as Ultima Vez, Stephen Petronio Company and Les Ballets C de la B. To keep pace, here are mini-reviews by myself and by Maisonneuve's dance blogger Erin Flynn of six recent shows. Enjoy.
Urban dance is practically in the bones of people under thirty, thanks to the immense popularity of hip hop music and video worldwide (see Erin Flynn’s take on the female breakdance collective Solid State). At this year’s Lyon Dance Biennial, breakdancers from across Europe replaced the usual contemporary dance fare. That same September week, Montreal’s own Rubberbandance Group brought its Slicing Static to Usine C.
The setting for Slicing Static— Usine (Factory) C’s exposed brick walls and metal balconies—couldn’t have been more appropriate. The added effects of single, hanging light bulbs and helter-skelter seating gave an up-close-and-personal street vibe without the audience losing the sense of being in a theatre. In fact, before the performance, theatrical trappings and conventions were playfully parodied: the pre-show announcements, typically restrictions on cell phones and cameras, evolved into admonitions on speaking God’s name in vain and the like—eliciting giggles from the audience.
If, based on this, you imagine the Rubberbandance performance as filled with in-your-face bravado and sexual explicitness, think again. With choreography by the troupe’s founder and artistic director, Victor Quijada (an LA native and former dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens), Slicing Static was lyrical, urban dance at its smoothest.
Performing to a haunting score by Mitchell Akiyama, Quijada and his five dancers interacted with intense curiosity, puzzlement and fascination. Throughout the performance, all looked to make emotional connections in a series of duos, trios, etc., that sometimes ended in conflict or alienation. Choreographically, Quijada blended the “tricks” of breakdance and of non-dance moves like boxing and cartwheels with contemporary and balletic vocabulary. The blend was so seamless, it was difficult to tell where one style began and another ended.
Part of the appeal of urban dance is its coupling of cool casualness with explicit showmanship. Theatrical dance could certainly use such street cred to help attract future audiences. At the end of the show, the audience expressed its enthusiastic approval of Quijada’s hybrid style. Most heartening was the unabashed cheering from a group of students.
Dans le silence des bambous
The last time I saw Jocelyne Montpetit (with butoh legend Tomiko Takai) was at 2003’s FIND, in her La femme des sables, which had the expected nightmarish tinge of butoh. In her new Dans le silence des bambous at L’Agora de la Danse, Montpetit serves up a serene hypnosis.
The piece begins in the barely-there blue light of dawn, Montpetit at the edge of a forest, weighed down by the fullness of the white fabric of her gown. Undergoing several transformations, she proceeds through the red light of rebirth to finally emerge in a green dress, at one with the bamboos. Thanks to innovative costuming by designer Issey Miyake, Montpetit makes magical use of fabric in conjunction with movement, shape-shifting from an encumbered body wrapped in a cocoon to a winged creature moving freely. Louis Dufort’s fine score incorporates complementary sounds of wind and rain to make the hanging bamboos onstage seem a real forest.
This most minimal production, with its judiciously chosen elements, not only showed a dancer receiving grace, but conferred upon the audience a calmness that is all too rare these days. Butoh, conceived in post-World War II Japan, has been performed fairly regularly in the West during the last twenty years, yet I continue to find it an endlessly fascinating form. The metamorphoses that its practitioners undergo completely engross and at times even frighten me. Part of the reason lies in butoh’s tendency to explore life along the edges: performances often resemble dreams at their most bizarre. And while Montpetit’s newest creation lacked the disturbing aspect often found in a butoh work, I still ended up with incomplete notes, as I always do during a good butoh performance—unconventional proof, perhaps, of its powerful spell.
Romeo and Juliet
I had a lot of expectations for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot. Maillot enters the well-loved tragedy by moving Friar Laurence front and centre, showing the love story as flashbacks through his confused and regretful eyes. Clad in severe black relieved only by his priest’s collar, the imposing Steve Coutereel lends gravitas to the proceedings and is a dramatically compelling stand-in for the audience. While not completely bowled over by Maillot’s interpretation, I was nonetheless choking back the tears by the end.
The ballet provided Les Grands a chance to show off both new members and old favourites to advantage. The cast I saw was headed by Mariko Kida as Juliet and Hervé Courtain as Romeo, both of whom were convincing as the young lovers. Principal dancers Rachel Rufer and Andrey Leonovitch made, respectively, a glamourous Lady Capulet and a sexy and aggressive Tybalt. In general, the corps de ballet and soloists were all in fine form, with the men especially making their strongest showing in awhile.
After having sat through numerous film, theatre and ballet productions overflowing with period details and stupendous sets, it was a relief to encounter this production’s white walls—entirely bare save for dramatic shadow play—which put the focus purely on the dancing and emotions of the characters, enlivened by Prokofiev’s magnificent score. The orchestra, led by noted ballet conductor Allan Lewis, former principal conductor of the Joffrey Ballet, rose to the challenge with a stirring performance.
Whether or not this Romeo and Juliet will rank with the MacMillan, the Cranko or other versions for lovers of Prokofiev’s score, Maillot’s neoclassical take imbued with natural movement is nonetheless perfectly suited to the contemporary ballet company that Les Grands has become and gives audiences something for the senses, heart and mind.
Danse-Cité, an important presenter of experimental and collaborative dance in Montreal, recently brought Emmanuel Jouthe’s AEternam to Espace Libre. AEternam, which means everlasting, was undertaken as an investigation of the individual in relation to time and space; more explicitly, of the transitory (performance) in relation to the eternal. The piece provoked a feeling of overstimulation, and attempts to process it left me tense. The dancers intently performed bizarre rituals as a tactic for coping with reality. Memories and secret urges were evoked while the body was treated to a sensory experience, such as donning a soaking wet sweater to be reminded of the ocean, tying oneself up in rope to manifest inner constraints or emerging from a plastic cocoon to experience birth.
As the audience entered, blurred figures went about the task of throwing pieces of metal into buckets. What followed when the front screen was pulled back was a series of seemingly random and intriguing events. The dancers seemed driven by their activities and unaware of the audience peering into their world. This gave way to an authentic nonchalance that dance rarely achieves in performance. The setting, which suggested an industrial playground, was defined by curtains of thick plastic, a long horizontal screen suspended above the stage, smaller objects scattered throughout the space and the odd organic form.
The structure of the work seemed given over to chance. Video and sound were mixed live, and at times potently harnessed by the performers. Often, however, the elements competed for attention rather than combining to form a clear image. What connected the sections ultimately wasn’t palpable, and as a result the underlying statement about our interaction with space and time seemed to be simply that it is unpredictable.
The dance vocabulary was interesting, but used sparsely. I found the trajectories spatially square when compared to the irregularity of the subject and the environment. What emerged from AEternam was an ambitious collage of music, imagery and movement that spoke to the multiplicity of information with which we are bombarded and the challenge of making sense of it.
Jordi Ventura Fabra and his partner Sonya Biernath have a direct lineage to the deconstructionist aesthetic popular these days: both attended the renowned new dance school PARTS in Brussels and moved to Montreal to make their choreographic marks.
Conséquence, performed at Tangente, used the familiar device of breaking down the fourth wall between audience and performer. What was unusual about Ventura’s work was that it managed to forge a connection between the players and observers. Through requests, notes, digital photos and mimicking, the public was implicated and involved throughout the piece.
Conséquence deals with the implications of our choices in the world, with the ways that lovers, friends and strangers react to our behaviour. Live video footage of the lobby was an effective (if unoriginal) device that kept the audience aware of real time and the actions transpiring outside the black box. Strong spatial choices and a dynamic cast enabled improvisations to remain spontaneous and clear. The movement had a visceral and light, energetic quality that seemed to stir up the atoms in the space. Text and dance were intelligently juxtaposed. A bright staging and tone also lent a sense of levity to the creation.
The finale of an opera aria, sung in the lobby by the security guard of L’Agora de la Danse, brought home the notion that art can be found all around us. There was a noticeable transformation in the audience: from confused stranger prior to the show to people with a stimulating common experience at the end.
La Resonance du double
Ginette Laurin, founder and director of O Vertigo, is in the rare position of having created successful works for her own modern dance company over a twenty-year span. In her most recent show, La Resonance du double, at the Museé d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, her craft was evident in the simplicity and eloquence with which she explored the facets of duplicity.
The performance was a crystal-clear and poetic investigation of movement from several vantage points. The gallery setting maintained the anonymity of the audience as observers within a darkened space while at the same time allowing free navigation around the gallery and a choice of accompanying score for the performance. The exposition opened with an eerie image of identical twins staring vacantly ahead and simultaneously dropping two large stones at regular intervals.
Apparently, our senses are programmed to notice what is new in our environments, but often miss the incremental changes that take place over a longer span. The works were generally structured to track these more subtle changes through multiple images of the same object. Probably the most visually stunning of the installation works was a video of dancer Melanie Demers projected life-size within a metal corset. Traces of her movements were left behind in space, creating multiple layers of the same person.
The live performance took place on a slightly raised stage with three sides exposed. Six performers went through a cycle, each improvising text from the solo of the dancer before them. Their exterior monologues ranged from poetic imagery to insights into awareness and sensation. This set-up played with time: those speaking were voicing a memory while the dance took place in the present.
Through changes in interpretation, we witnessed layers of meanings in a simple solo. The dance provided a window into the distinct reverberations of each specific choreographic element: the subjective appeal of a given score, intention, body and personality over another.
La Resonance du double had a matter-of-fact tone and dealt in real transformations as opposed to illusory ones. The only illusion was the audience’s perception of the present as solid and of reality as singular.
I went back to see the work when video projections were substituted for the dancers and found that the power of the live performance was only emphasized by its absence. Dancers can’t be replaced by holograms any time soon! The resonance of the living beings lingered more powerfully in my memory than the digital traces they left behind.
Calendar of Late Fall Performances
Nov. 26–7 Moon Water, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan (Place des Arts)
Don’t miss this East-meets-West contemporary dance, hailed by the New York Times as the best dance performance of 2003.
November 26–27 L’Amentation, Gesolaine Doté (Théâtre du Jésu)
Passionate, African contemporary dance and music performed by a hot new talent, Gesolaine Doté and company.
November 26–27 Return to Sender, Tracey McNeil (Studio 303)
Fast and furious dance theatre by Tracey McNeil in collaboration with quirky dance icons Katie Ward and Dean Marenko.
December 2-5 Les Abattoirs, Pierre Lecours (Tangente)
Twisted partnering, stunning interpreters and choreography by Montreal’s very own diva, Pierre Lecours. Who could ask for anything more?
Dec. 9–12 Danses Noires, various artists (Tangente)
An opportunity to see perspectives from Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Central Africa as interpreted by Montreal and Brooklyn artists.
Dec. 11 Vernissage #119, various artists (Studio 303)
Studio 303’s vernissages are a chance to see four emerging choreographers in one tidy evening.
Dec. 12 onward The Nutcracker, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (Place des Arts)
Okay, you can’t stand it come holiday time when you hear “Waltz of the Flowers” piping through every other retail store, but admit it, creepy “Uncle” Drosselmeyer is oddly appealing in a time of relentless cheer.
Kena Herod is the dance critic for Maisonneuve Magazine. The Dance Scene appears every other Tuesday.