In the waning days of summer, glossy brochures arrived in the mail and sizable PDFs filled the inbox with promises of exciting new works and talented new performers. The start of the 2005–2006 dance season in Montreal featured both seasoned pros and young hopefuls from one extreme of the dance spectrum to the other. Typically, the results were mixed, but there were enough bright moments to feel optimistic about what’s to come.
Discovery at the Gala des Étoiles
The ballet extravaganza that is the Gala, now in its twenty-second year, kicked things off with a tidy two-act show. This year’s edition was especially varied in the works presented. Only a handful were from the classical repertoire, while the rest were of recent vintage—either Canadian or world premieres. Excitingly, in addition to gala veterans like Rex Harrington, Evelyn Hart and Anik Bissonnette, some new faces appeared that we hope to see again.
Yolanda Martín and Alejandro Álvarez from Compañía Nacional de Danza may not have been the flashiest of the show, but their performance of two works by company director Nacho Duato reminded me of the sheer joy of dance, particularly in Arenal, with its Spanish salt-of-the-earth buoyancy.
Of the other contemporary ballet works on display, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Patricia Barker (with Jeffrey Stanton) articulated wit in the bold leg extensions of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Similarly, Stuttgart Ballet’s Alicia Amatriain (with Jason Riley) showed off her insane flexibility in Itzik Galili’s Mono Lisa. Amatriain, twenty-three, was a hit last year in the dance parody, Grand Pas Classique and winsomely displayed her comedic skills again in a pas from Taming of the Shrew.
Another youthful addition to the Gala lineup was twenty-two year-old Caroline Queiroz Gaier of Teatro Argentino de la Plata. She performed the Sylvia pas de deux with Inaki Urlezaga of Royal Ballet, who choreographed this pleasing version. With her gracious manner, beaming smile and clean technique, Gaier uncannily resembled an up-to-date young Margot Fonteyn from head to toe.
The discovery of the evening though was seventeen-year-old Daniil Simkin (son of the illustrious Dmitri) who looks to be a sensation in the making with his astonishing arabesques, easy turns, and fabulous jumps. Here’s hoping we’ll get to watch this young dynamo mature at many more galas to come.
Contemporary Dance—the Next Generation
If the future of ballet—in the figure of Simkin Jr.—was on my mind at the Gala, contemporary dance and choreography occupied my thoughts while attending performances at Studio 303 and Tangente a week later. Given that both presenters showcase aspiring choreographers and dancers, their shows are required viewing for anyone interested in spotting the future scene-makers of Canadian dance.
Studio 303’s Vernissage-danse #123 was a something of a disappointment. “live in Montreal,” choreographed by Marie Béland and danced by her Maribé group of eight dancers, was a piece I wanted to like. I appreciated some of Béland’s adroit partnering sequences, especially one in which a seen-it-all-done-it-all-before guy and gal began by apathetically slouching till they could slouch no more, then smoothly bounded through wide stances—eating up every inch of the performance space—before repeating the entire sequence at breakneck speed. What got in the way for me, however, was the work’s subject and overall tone as a send-up of pop culture, complete with a shallow mistress of ceremonies. “It’s a Star Académie world,” said one spectator. While entertainingly cheeky, the target of this parody is too banal for me, but at least Béland constructed a piece that made demands of her dancers.
The same, however, could not be said of the work that preceded it, Situation 5’s “Réaction/Démolition.” Before the start of the performance, the members of this dance collective came out to give the audience some talk about noble goals like shared exploration and an explanation that the piece we were about to see was neither a finished work, nor a work in progress. Instead, the audience was to consider itself invited to an open rehearsal. A rehearsal? Nothing against rehearsals—it’s a privilege, usually, to be invited to one—but I would hazard that a rehearsal was not what many in the crowd had paid to see on a rainy weekend night.
During the performance proper, the audience was treated to such declarations as: “This is the belief that not all accidents are bad,” “This is the belief that art comes out of accidents,” and “This the void.” I’m not sure if I got it all word-for-word or was able to keep straight all the props—tennis balls, a boot and a black scarf (“the void”)—that the dancers manipulated to illustrate these statements, but I think some of the tone was meant to be humorous. There were some attempts at actual dancing, but these meager crumbs were scattered about like afterthoughts.
Some Rays of Hope
Over at Tangente, the future of contemporary dance was looking brighter. This year’s Danse buissonnière featured the work of eight young choreographers and, of those, three were especially noteworthy efforts.
Nicolas Cantin’s “Glass*house—Fantaisie baroque,” an exercise of “object choreography,” was a fascinating study of transformation (for much of it he wore a horse head). What really impressed me was the evident rigour of Cantin’s approach; while earthbound and constricted in a small rectangle of red light, every fibre, every tendon of his body was afire with life. Every gesture, even the smallest—a mere twist of the head—seemed near momentous.
Also striking was Jessica Serli’s “-40 degrés,” scored evocatively by Olivier Asselin with sounds like record crackles and feet crunching in the snow. At the start, Serli’s six dancers, all in white and arranged widely across the stage, appeared in shivering huddles. This picture of icy cold then gives way to heated motion with Serli’s inventive movement in and out of downward-dog and push-up postures.
Another strong showing was Dana Michel in her “critical path method,” which, according to her program notes, was about her attempt to escape from her headspace. The opening image of her exceedingly athletic body (in a girly white, ruffled dress) hopping high in the air to a techno beat, illustrated the repetitive madness of that notion. However, despite Michel’s intention, as fittingly as it was expressed through her choreography, the sight of her dreadlocks a-flyin’ as she lunged forward and thrust her arms out in front of her at a later moment made me think—as the (very different) Duato piece did a week before—of nothing more than the pleasure of watching a body move through space. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
Kena Herod is Maisonneuve’s dance critic. Read more columns by Kena Herod.