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A Spring in Montreal’s Step

Early 2005 Shows

As of this posting, a miracle has occurred in Montreal: spring. To be sure, one cannot feel entirely certain that the warmer temperatures are here to stay, but as early as last month, the snow had completely melted, and university and college students have been on the streets protesting. For Montreal dance fans less interested in traipsing down the boulevards to the beat of tam tams, there are good reasons to head back indoors.

Dancer Erin Flynn pictured above in Van Grimde Corps Secrets, which returns to L'Agora de la Danse this May.


Marie Chouinard is one of the city's most popular choreographers and certainly there was been no better way to celebrate the arrival of spring in Montreal than by catching her two excellent works: Les 24 préludes de Chopin and Chorale seen this past March and April.

Chouinard's discernible style and vocabulary and her ability to transport the audience to parallel universes at once familiar and utterly exotic are exceptional. While the dancers' human forms were recognizable, they seemed to co-exist in a time forgotten and a time yet to come. It's not just the steps and postures Chouinard chose (evoking Ancient Greek and Egyptian paintings in her use of in-profile, parallel choreography). It was also the costuming by Vandal: interesting hair design for women (black, Cleopatra-like page-boy wigs (Chorale) or mohawks and multiple braids (Préludes)) and black-striped body wear that hinted at bondage. The picture presented, even without the dancers moving, was sharp and often sexual.

For Chorale, Chouinard was inspired by the shared etymology of "chorale" and "choreography": except for a few sections with a heavy techno beat, the dancers produced the music themselves, vocalizing without words. In the opening, two women inched forward and took turns emitting deep sounds from their diaphrams, their torsos contracting hard as each took over from the other to sustain the sound. Breath-like sex-as Chouinard showed, is the life force that animates us all. Lest such concepts inspire over-seriousness, a sense of humour did prevail throughout the performance.

Les 24 préludes de Chopin was also infused with a sense of whimsy, though Chouinard's interpretation of the Romantic-era music-of the sort associated with chiffon and soft lyricism-felt unexpected. The dancers often struck static poses, relieved by sexy, undulating torsos and pelvises, while their faces displayed occasional bemusement. However, the opening and closing images of the piece-the dancers, spaced widely across the stage, stood straight, their entire bodies tilted forward, palms on chest-infused the work with a sense of reverence.

Montreal is a decidedly contemporary dance town. The sight of pointe shoes is fairly rare, even at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the city's premier company. Spring, however, has seen more pink satin than usual. Montreal's semi-professional Ballet Ouest de Montréal revived its Sleeping Beauty to the delight of both children and parents. There were the occasional bobbles and slips, but who cares when given the chance to see the ballet done so charmingly?

Not to be neglected for long, Cinderella got her chance onstage in Toronto this time. If you missed last year's premiere of the National Ballet of Canada's production of Cinderella, choreographed by James Kudelka, the ballet was brought back for two encore performances last weekend. The production provided enough twist and sophistication for those not so keen on old classics but who still look for ballet that demands fine pointe work. It's sure to be revived again and would be well worth a trip down the 401.

Back in Montreal, the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, brought its full-length Red Giselle to town. Montreal, with a dance scene where narrative works are as rare as pointe shoes, you might think that this dance fan, who does have a weakness for such things, would be overjoyed ... The best I can say is that the audience on the night I attended was certainly appreciative. For my part, I did at least enjoy the sight of lovely, handsome and well-trained (and unusually tall!) dancers, in both the female and male ranks. I did not enjoy, on the other hand, the over-exaggerated postures-"extravagantly splayed out" as one New York City critic put it when the production came to NYC-and the overheated emotions. A fellow audience member (and a friend of mine), however, suggested that cultural differences may be at work. Red Giselle is based on the tragic life of early-twentieth-century ballerina Olga Spessivtseva and it draws on the Russian Revolution as its ever-present dramatic backdrop. Some of the tableaux such as émigrés departing with suitcases in hand carry an emotional impact that resonates still with more recent Russian and other immigrants. Another critic went to see the second cast the following night and claimed that young Anastasia Sitnokova, in her nuanced portayal of the beleaguered ballerina, made the extravagant choreography completely believable. Still, I am not convinced.


Montreal dance scene veterans choreographer Paul-André Fortier and dancer Sandra Lapierre
perform in Lumière.


After Eifman's lurid emotional bloodbath, it was a relief the following week to see Paul-André Fortier's latest, Lumière, with no history or extreme psychological states to consider. All that was asked of you was to enjoy the interplay of the dancers (Fortier, Sandra Lapierre, Warwick Long, John Ottmann, Manuel Roque, and Audrey Thibodeau) with one another. Despite maintaining impassive expressions for most of the performance, hints of smiles occasionally snuck onto their faces. You got the feeling that they enjoyed the full-out dancing Fortier provided for them. But what really made Lumière a modest gem was watching the wide range of dancers-from veterans Fortier and LaPierre to relative newcomer Thibodeau-perform a highly structured and demanding piece that was imbued with just enough individual casualness and connectedness with each other, especially in the partnering sequences, to keep the performances warm despite the high-degree precision of the choreography.

As we head into May, there are still plenty of shows to catch. Two must-sees are Isabelle Van Grimde's Les chemins de traverse at L'Agora de la Danse (her Saetta was one of the best shows of 2003) and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens's program devoted to the work of Ohad Naharin (one of the most provocative choreographers working today).

Sarah Chase Dance Stories, "Bird," Agora de la Danse, April 26-30, 8 PM.

Alberta Ballet, Dangerous Liaisons, Salle Pierre-Mercure, Centre Pierre-Péladeau, April 28, 8 PM.

Marie-Soleil Pilette, "Mémoire"; Martin Langlais, "Sang-mêlé, sans trop s'emmêler"; & Nancy Glutnez, "Stereo," Espace Tangente, April 28-30, 8:30 PM & May 1, 4 PM.

National Ballet of Canada, An Italian Straw Hat, the Hummingbird Centre (Toronto), May 1, 11-15, 2 PM & 7:30 PM.

National Ballet of Canada, Musings/Etudes/Rubies, the Hummingbird Centre (Toronto), May 4-8, 2 PM & 7:30 PM.

Van Grimde Corps Secrets, "Les chemins de traverse," Agora de la Danse, May 5-7, 8 PM.

Santee Smith, "Kaha :wi (She Carries)"; Gaetan Gingras, "Nouvelle creation"; & Byron Chief Moon, "Quest," Espace Tangente, May 5-7, 8:30 PM & May 8, 4PM.

The Dutch National Ballet, "Carmen and other steps from Holland," Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts, May 5-7, 2 PM & 8 PM.

André Gingras, "CYP17"; & Dylan Newcomb, "Breath," Agora de la Danse, May 11-14, 8 PM.

Jean-François Légaré, "Nouvelle creation"; Luca Silvestrini & Bettina Strickler, "Duel"; & Antonio Montanile, "Quduo',"Espace Tangente, May 12-14, 8:30 PM & May 15, 4 PM.

Emio Greco & Pieter C. Sholten, "Rimasto Orfano," Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, May 12-14, 8 PM.

Vernissage-danse #122, Studio 303, May 14, 8:30 PM.

Karine Denault, "Nouvelle creation"; & Karen Guttman, "Sad Horses and Other Glitches in Time," Espace Tangente, May 19-21, 8:30 PM & May 22, 4 PM.

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, "Improv with Ohad Naharin," Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, May 26, 28 & June 3-4, 8 PM.

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