An awakened mind. An eye for mise-en-scène. An interest in true, meaningful collaboration. These are but a few of the reasons why Mélanie Demers has established herself as one of the most reliable choreographers in Quebec and abroad. Like many, I first noticed Demers as a dancer for O Vertigo. In 2006, she leaves the company to pursue her own work as a choreographer. In less than half a decade, she has become a unique voice in the Montreal dance landscape, her work as intellectually stimulating as it is experiential.
Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to exchange emails with Demers about her work, including her new show Junkyard/Paradis
, which has its Montreal premiere next week at Agora de la danse.
SYLVAIN VERSTRICHT: One of the things that’s stood out for me about your work over the last few years is how political it’s been, and this even when I can’t quite pinpoint exactly how. Dance is not the most obvious medium to tackle political issues, yet you pull it off without being heavy-handed. How do you think dance can affect our political consciousness?
MÉLANIE DEMERS: [… You] are so right when you say that dance in not necessarily the easiest medium to deal with political issues. However, it seems that my personal concerns and obsessions always refer to the politics of life. What is it to be human, to live in a group, to live in society, to dominate or be dominated, to be the victim or the tormentor… How can we reconcile the best and the worst in us? My work always starts with one of these questions. Therefore, I imagine it is naturally transferred on stage. Although I don’t try to be political. I am less interested in the politics of politicians than in the politics of humans. I just think that art is political. Being on stage is a political act. A subversive act. A protestation act. It is a poetic way of refusing the natural order of things.
In this perspective, I choose dance as a weapon to defend the principles of freedom, transformation and elevation that can perhaps make us better humans. I try to use dance as a way to channel anger, rage, indignation, and eventually inspire a desire for change. Dance is for me a galvanizing whip.
Having the privilege of monopolizing people’s attention for over an hour, I feel it is my job to put a magnifying glass on our shortcomings, our flaws, but also our desires and our needs. I am always trying to find the right way to measure, and the right dose to express human nature in all its beautiful and repulsive declinations.
So, to the question how dance can affect our political consciousness, my humble answer is I don’t know. I just think that dance operates at such a deep level that it can cross our intellectual resistance and work on our profound fibers. And perhaps, on good days, affect our political consciousness by being more aware, more alive, more free.
Yeah, on good days, dance is not only an aesthetic but a political and (if I may say) spiritual experience.
SV: If I understand, you’re interested in how our personal politics affect our everyday life, the way we interact with and treat one another… Dance is a great way to physically exemplify that human interaction. How do these concerns show up in your new work Junkyard/Paradis
MD: For Junkyard/Paradis
, I was interested in exploring the paradox of what I think constitutes the complexity of human condition, which is the fine line between the great survival instinct and simple self-destruction. As much as the body obeys the laws of nature and demands immediate satisfaction of our needs, the mind tries to rise above the fray to gain access to some sort of freedom. However, the modern westerner having most of their primal needs easily satisfied can often fall into self-destructive habits. Perhaps as a way to still feel alive.
It has been a constant effort to play with the possible shifts in situation and to observe how much we desire the destruction of what we seem to adore the most. And this unfortunate equation can be applied to a social plan as much as to the most personal level. […]
We also spent some time questioning the perception of things; not only how what appears to be beautiful can easily be ugly, but how do we juggle beauty and ugliness in the same moment, in the same image, in the same person?
If you live in Plateau Mont-Royal, you probably know the long corridor at the Sherbrooke metro station that takes you right out on Sherbrooke Street. I walk there often to go to Circuit-Est and I experience the most intense Junkyard/Paradise moments when sophisticated classical music is being played to discourage homeless people and junkies to try to find refuge in the dark corners. I always struggle to keep my sanity when I walk the distance of this corridor. I tried to metaphorically put on stage this discomfort of having to deal with the great range of human potential.
SV: I’ve never walked through that corridor, but I’m familiar with the concept. If I’m not mistaken, they also play classical music in such areas because studies have shown that people are less likely to be violent when it’s playing. […]
You often use written text or spoken word in your work. What I love about the way you use text is that the statements you make are often paradoxical and even downright contradictory. It forces us as audience members to weigh each individual statement rather than accept or reject them altogether. For example, in a piece you created for Sonya & Yves, dancer Sonya Stefan says, “This is not a game. This is not reality. This is not art.” We are left to ask ourselves what it is then, while questioning if we should believe any of her statements in the first place. Now that I think about it, this relates to what we were first discussing about the political nature of your work. What is your approach to text? Is there any in Junkyard/Paradis
MD: […] I often use [words] to give another kind of perspective on a specific topic. […] While dance flirts with the right brain, words go usually straight to the left brain. I probably try to outmaneuver the obvious by attempting to make the movement talk and make the words dance. A little bit like how poetry works.
There is quite a bit of text in Junkyard/Paradis
and we play a lot on the paradox between what is said and the intentions with which it is delivered.
I like when words can offer a meaning and reveal a certain truth. Then I like when they make us doubt this truth and, ultimately, when we are forced to accept or, even better, discover another aspect of the reality that had escaped us in the first place.
But what I know for sure is that I like contradictions. Aren’t we all creatures of contradictions? Junkyard/Paradis
January 26-28 at 8pm, January 29 at 4pm
Agora de la danse
Tickets: 20$/Students or under 30 years old: 14$