Register Monday | June 24 | 2019

Montreal Dances Into the New Year

Winter Shows and News from Abroad

In January, several Montreal performances showcased choreographers looking beyond city limits toward more global concerns. Meanwhile, three local groups began the New Year with tours abroad, all attracting serious attention. Here are brief reviews of January's shows and a calendar of upcoming performances.

A quiet standout in Studio 303's Vernissage #120 was Christiane Bourget's "Jachère" (the French word for the practice of leaving a piece of land fallow). In this piece, the human body represents the land, which is shown as a living organism in its own right. Bourget conceived "Jachère" as a solo for Nicolas Cantin, and she made smart use of the former gymnast's wiry frame. Wearing only a pair of tan pants, Cantin looked frail, almost malnourished, and moved with a slow jaggedness that suggested a body racked internally. At one point, he hoisted a wood plank and stumbled under its weight, evoking the image of Christ and the cross. As Cantin set the plank on its side and laid cautiously behind it, I was reminded of the repose all living creatures need-and of the revivification (resurrection) that rest allows. With its meditative tone, enhanced by Christian Bouchard's musical montage, "Jachère" at once embodies and lends a spiritual element to the ground beneath our feet, which we so rarely notice.

Héloïse Rémy, for her part, is preoccupied with the state of humanity. Casatierra (house of the earth), shown at the MAI (Montréal Arts Interculturels), explores Rémy's and her audience's aspirations for a better world. Upon arrival, spectators were handed programmes and pencils and instructed to finish the sentence, "If I could change the world ..." (helpfully posed in French, English and Spanish for multilingual Montrealers). If "audience participation" puts fear in your heart, fret not-Rémy had something less aggressive in mind. The watchword for Casatierra was "invitation." The gently enticing tone was set from the start: the audience wound its way through the MAI, traversing a dark corridor framed on one side by black curtains and on the other by a wall on which humanitarian sentiments had been inscribed.

Overall, Rémy's dancing was impassioned. One particular movement, a "walk" on knees, captured the general tenor of the show. Rémy solidly planted one foot on the floor, moved down onto her knee, followed through with the other leg, and so on. While the movement created a display of penitence, the thud of each foot and each knee on the ground conveyed forward-looking determination. The piece never became grim, however. Aided by singer Marie Vallée and guitarist Julien Thomet, who helped encourage spectators to speak or write out their hopes on the stage's floor, Rémy inspired the audience to transcend individuality and nationality, to recognize its shared values and to realize that collectivism need not always equal deadening conformity.

Social Studies at L'Agora de la Danse was perhaps less globally minded in its themes, but it did transcend the local in its creation: the evening showcased a transcontinental collaboration between the Vancouver dancers Ziyian Kwan, Susan Elliott and John Ottmann and the Quebec choreographers Paul-André Fortier, Benoît Lachambre, Dominique Porte and David Pressault.

In Porte's "From Zero," Susan Elliot's manifold disrobement-at one point, to nudity-and re-dressing were thrown into relief by interspersed blackouts, simple walks on and off the stage and dance segments in which her body did not so much move through space as carve it. The changing of clothes represented both shifts in thought and the "trying on" of identities in the safety of the self. At the end, Elliot stood motionless on her discarded skirt, mug in hand, staring out at the audience in silence.

In Lachambre's "Full Body Empty Space," clothing was used to more comical effect. Returning from intermission, the audience discovered a dozen complete outfits neatly arranged on chairs onstage, as if the bodies that once inhabited them had mysteriously disappeared. After some comings and goings on and off stage, Ottmann neurotically mumbled for what seemed like ages as Eliot and Kwan tried on the clothing, pulling the items awkwardly over their own outfits. There wasn't much in the way of dance until the end-perhaps the best part of the piece. The three interpreters took turns passing energy back and forth to one another (their bodies swaying on impact) and then finally sent the energy out into the audience. I sensed delight around me at this generous onstage gesture. Still, the piece seemed longer than necessary.

Pressault's "In Vein" was, you could say, more full-bodied: in this solo, Kwan moved as if her body were made entirely of rubber-like a stiffly jointed Barbie doll. Dancing topless with rubber tubing wrapped around her hips and neck, her appearance was far from Mattel, however. She tried to speak, but the sounds were inarticulate. She tried to move but had to settle for whatever she could contrive, limited by quivering limbs that did not obey and got in the way more often than not.

Boundaries also played a part in Fortier's oddly named "Chute Libre/Free Fall." In this solo piece, Ottmann could not seem to escape the choreographic patterns (doses of petit allegro and leap sequences) set by Fortier or the geometric forms of light on the floor. The result was a purposely exhausted dancer, driven onward by the music's relentless (if muffled) beat, arms slashing through space in a repetitive pattern. On the few occasions when his body stayed in place, he shook and shimmered uncontrollably. 

Exhaustion was also on display in choreographer Suzanne Miller and composer Allan Paivio's Speed. The two artists, who have been collaborating since 1985, were given equal billing. And as in creation, so too onstage. Speed featured Magali Stoll and Karsten Kroll, whose presences resonated equally strongly through the work. What emerged from this seemingly abstract duet-in which, in a twist on a traditional pas de deux, they took turns lifting and supporting one another-was an essay on contemporary life. In the background, we could hear cars revving up and jet engines firing. The combination of straight-up, non-referential movement and concrete sounds fascinatingly distilled the texture of our contemporary lives. At the end of Speed, Stoll and Kroll looked at the audience, and there was a sadness to their audibly heavy breathing.

Local groups have also been making waves elsewhere. Dave St-Pierre and his group are currently touring La Pornographie des âmes in Europe and have received a number of positive notices thus far: "It's been a long, long time since we've seen such a powerful performance, we are left wanting many more ... the audience went wild," said Frankfurter Allgemeiner. "A staggering revelation," said Frankfurter Rundschau.

In New York, Daniel Léveillé garnered some significant positive reviews for his La pudeur des icebergs (an all-nude show performed in Montreal last year) from the New York Times, the Village Voice, Danceview Times, Gay City News and the Dance Insider. Finally, in the first week of February, Édouard Lock's La La La Human Steps performed Amelia at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), to critical appraisal from the New York Times, Danceview Times and

And there's still more to come in the winter season!

Jump Rhythm Jazz Project. Théâtre Outremont, February 15, 17 & 18, 8 PM.

PPS Danse, Danses circassiennes. Agora de la Danse, February 16-19 & 23-26, 8 PM.

Louise Bédard Danse, Ex-Libris. Théâtre La Chapelle, February 17-20, 8 PM.

Mad Shak Dance Company. Espace Tangente, February 17-20 & 24-27, 8 PM.

Vernissage-danse #121. Studio 303, February 19, 8:30 PM.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, February 22-23, 8 PM.

Louise Lecavalier & Tedd Robinson, Cobalt. Théâtre Outremont, February 24-26, 8 PM.

O Vertigo, Passare. Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, February 25-26, 8 PM.

Estelle Clareton, Messieurs, Dames. Agora de la Danse, March 8-12, 8 PM.

Sasha Ivanochko, Audrey Lehouillier & Kunie Suzuki. Espace Tangente, March 10-13, 8:30 PM.

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Of weddings and stage. Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, March 10, 12 & 17-19, 8 PM.

Kena Herod is the dance critic for Maisonneuve Magazine. The Dance Scene appears every other Tuesday.