because the personal is cultural
As my years as a dance critic pile on, it’s probably to be expected that I see more and more works I’ve already seen. This year, I can think of at least five off the top of my head. The one that most stood up to a repeat viewing was Matija Ferlin and Ame Henderson’s The Most Together We’ve Ever Been. I took the bus to Ottawa to see it just as a snowstorm was hitting the city. The ride ended up taking four hours. I barely had enough time to shove some of the worst food I’ve ever had in my mouth before running over to Arts Court, an old courthouse that has been turned into a beautiful art space. And, as soon as the show started, I knew it was all worth it.
Back in Montreal, Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal made a much-anticipated return after six years with Corps de Walk, a show she created with her partner Gai Behar. The uniformity she imposed on the twelve dancers of Norway’s Carte Blanche was oppressive and disturbing. It was its own indictment of homogeneity.
At the Biennale de gigue contemporaine, the always reliable Nancy Gloutnez stood out yet again. With Les Mioles, she borrowed from classical music and became a conductor, turned her dancers’ feet into instruments, and composed a score reminiscent of Steve Reich in its obsessive build-up.
After years of being one of the most rigorous emerging choreographers in Montreal, Sasha Kleinplatz has now fully emerged with Chorus II. The audience stood above six male dancers who swayed between demonstrations of physical strength and chill-inducing vulnerability. It is now up to venue artistic directors everywhere to shine on Kleinplatz the spotlight she so clearly deserves.
Speaking of which, 2013 was the year of Agora de la danse. They probably had their best programming since I started following dance. It all began with Karine Denault’s Pleasure Dome, in which musicians and dancers explored pleasure without ever lazily resorting to shortcuts. Rather, she allowed the meaning of the work to emerge on its own and for Pleasure Dome to impose itself by the same token.
It was followed by When We Were Old, a duo by Québec’s Emmanuel Jouthe and Italy’s Chiara Frigo (presented in collaboration with Tangente). The choreographer-dancers managed to bypass every single contemporary dance cliché that usually occurs as soon as a man and woman are onstage. In each and every moment, their encounter felt fresh and sincere.
Agora ended the year with Prismes by Benoît Lachambre, who a month later would win the Montreal Dance Prize. Created for Montréal Danse, Prismes explored the effect of light on perception in a chromatic environment, as well as the fluidity of gender. Lighting designer Lucie Bazzo outdid herself for this highly experiential work.
At the Festival TransAmériques, it was French choreographer Boris Charmatz who stood out with Levée des conflits, an opus of twenty-five movements repeated as a canon by twenty-four dancers. From the simplicity of the choreography to the high number of performers, Levée des conflits impressively hovered between minimalism and excess.
I spent the summer in Iceland, where my trip ended with the Reykjavík Dance Festival. There, Norway’s Sissel M Bjørkli presented one of the most singular shows I’ve ever seen with Codename: Sailor V. It took place in a tiny space, barely big enough to seat fifteen. The smoke that filled the room along with Elisabeth Kjeldahl Nilsson and Evelina Dembacke’s intensely saturated coloured lighting blurred the edges of everything. Inspired by anime, Bjørkli created an alter ego for herself and through imaginative play managed to turn an office chair into a spaceship. That shit was magical.
So was Nothing’s for Something by Belgium’s Heine Avdal and Yukiko Shinozaki, which opened with a ballet for six curtains, each suspended by six huge helium-filled balloons. Set to classical music, it was reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia. For its finale, eight such balloons were left to float around the room while emitting breathing sounds, appearing like disembodied alien visitors.
Soon after my return to Montreal, Marie Chouinard presented Henri Michaux : Mouvements. The genesis of this work, when Carol Prieur first incarnated the drawings of Henri Michaux back in 2005, is the reason why I’m a dance critic today. Seeing the twelve dancers of Chouinard’s company lend themselves to the exercise was just as riveting eight years later. By translating drawings into movement, Chouinard demonstrated the power of dance to think the body creatively.
Usine C ended the year on a high note with their program from the Netherlands, most especially Ann Van den Broek’s feminist work for three female dancers, Co(te)lette. The show was powerful in its exposition of women’s bodies as a site of tension, torn between being objects of desire and embodied subjects. We can only hope that there will be more works like it in 2014.
One dancer climbs onstage, wipes the floor with her hand until she is down on her elbows, shaking her ass, at which point another dancer walks up the stage and begins to wipe the floor. There will be twenty-four of them, performing the same series of twenty-five movements, over and over again. This initial canon allows the audience to travel back in time all depending on which dancer their eyes rest on at any given moment. This is Boris Charmatz’s Levée des conflits.
It is in one way chaotic because of the sheer number of performers; and yet it isn’t because each is so clearly doing exactly what they should be doing.
And the first dancer begins to wipe the floor again, a loop is formed, and we understand: we are locked into this sequence.
There is something of Canadian experimental filmmaker Michael Snow in Levée de conflits. Like in his movie Sshtoorrty, in which the same simple short story is not only overlapped but repeated at least ten times. And yet each time the viewer notices something different since human perception is such that not everything can ever be all taken in at once; which is why when people say that, after a certain point, they “got it,” you know they didn’t get it because it’s simply impossible.
We can also think of his seminal film Wavelength, a 45-minute zoom across a mostly empty loft. In terms of storytelling, Wavelength is cheekily minimalist, but the celluloid is manipulated to such a degree that on a formal level it is so excessive as (again) to make viewers feel like they have always missed something. With its changes in lighting, no matter how seemingly few, the same could be said of Levée des conflits.
And the variations occur. They perform the sequence while going in a circle in a space that progressively gets smaller. Time seems similarly condensed. Then they slow the movements down as they get even closer to each other. One could also be reminded of Michael Trent’s conceptual show It’s about time: 60 dances in 60 minutes, in which dancers repeated the same sequence of fifteen actions four times, each action first taking a minute, then fifteen seconds, then three minutes, then a minute again. Levée des conflits might be less playful than It’s about time, but more ambitious in scope.
Then some of the dancers can be seen performing the sequence backwards, until they are all wiping the floor. And the cycle begins anew, abandoning the canon in favor of synchronicity. The choreography’s simplicity gets exposed, and yet it’s also more pleasurable. What is it about synchronicity? Is it because deep down we’re all order-loving fascists? Is it because it gives us something the universe doesn’t? The illusion of control, no matter how trivial?
We exit Levée des conflits the same way we entered it, like the characters in Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. It will have taken an hour and forty minutes to complete the cycle, but it will be with a feeling of resolution so logical that it might induce chills. I usually try to avoid saying such platitudes, but hopefully the advantage is that when I do say them you know I mean it: Levée des conflits is the best dance show that’s been presented in Montreal this past year.
May 30 & 31 at 8pm
Place des Arts – Théâtre Jean-Duceppe
514.844.3822 / 1.866.984.3822
Tickets: 48-58$ / 30 years old and under: 43-48$
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com