because the personal is cultural
1. Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure) / Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M), Trajal Harrell + Thibault Lac + Ondrej Vidlar (Festival TransAmériques)
American choreographer Trajal Harrell’s work has always been impressive if only for its sheer ambition (his Twenty Looks series currently comprises half a dozen shows), but Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure) is his masterpiece. In the most primal way, he proves that art isn’t a caprice but that it is a matter of survival. Harrell and dancers Thibault Lac and Ondrej Vidlar manifest this need by embodying it to the fullest. The most essential show of this or any other year.
2. ENTRE & La Loba (Danse-Cité) & INDEEP, Aurélie Pedron
Locally, it was the year of Aurélie Pedron. She kept presenting her resolutely intimate solo ENTRE, a piece for one spectator at a time who – eyes covered – experiences the dance by touching the performer’s body. In the spring, she offered a quiet yet surprisingly moving 10-hour performance in which ten blindfolded youths who struggled with addiction evolved in a closed room. In the fall, she made us discover new spaces by taking over Montreal’s old institute for the deaf and mute, filling its now vacant rooms with a dozen installations that ingeniously blurred the line between performance and the visual arts. Pedron has undeniably found her voice and is on a hot streak.
3. Co.Venture, Brooklyn Touring Outfit (Wildside Festival)
The most touching show I saw this year, a beautiful portrait of an intergenerational friendship and of the ways age restricts our movement and dance expands it.
4. Avant les gens mouraient (excerpt), Arthur Harel & (LA)HORDE (Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer, Céline Signoret) (Festival TransAmériques)
wants&needs danse’s The Total Space Party allowed the students of L’École de danse contemporaine to revisit Avant les gens mouraient. It made me regret I hadn’t included it in my best of 2014 list, so I’m making up for it here. Maybe it gained in power by being performed in the middle of a crowd instead of on a stage. Either way, this exploration of Mainstream Hardcore remains the best theatrical transposition of a communal dance I’ve had the chance to see.
5. A Tribe Called Red @ Théâtre Corona (I Love Neon, evenko & Greenland Productions)
I’ve been conscious of the genocide inflicted upon the First Nations for some time, but it hit me like never before at A Tribe Called Red’s show. I realized that, as a 35 year-old Canadian, it was the first time I witnessed First Nations’ (not so) traditional dances live. This makes A Tribe Called Red’s shows all the more important.
6. Naked Ladies, Thea Fitz-James (Festival St-Ambroise Fringe)
Fitz-James gave an introductory lecture on naked ladies in art history while in the nude herself. Before doing so, she took the time to look each audience member in the eye. What followed was a clever, humorous, and touching interweaving of personal and art histories that exposed how nudity is used to conceal just as much as to reveal.
7. Max-Otto Fauteux’s scenography for La très excellente et lamentable tragédie de Roméo et Juliette (Usine C)
Choreographer Catherine Gaudet and director Jérémie Niel stretched the short duo they had created for a hotel room in La 2e Porte à Gauche’s 2050 Mansfield – Rendez-vous à l’hôtel into a full-length show. What was most impressive was scenographer Max-Otto Fauteux going above and beyond by recreating the hotel room in which the piece originally took place, right down to the functioning shower. The surreal experience of sitting within these four hyper-realistic walls made the performance itself barely matter.
As Festival TransAmériques draws to an end, spectators gather to watch nineteen individuals most of whom have no formal dance training take over the large stage of Monument-National and perform in French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s Gala. Cast in Montreal, they represent the diversity of the city: different ethnicities, different ages, different genders, different abilities, different body types.
The show opens with a long, shitty PowerPoint of different empty stages around the world, from the ancient to the technologically advanced, from the modest to the luxurious, from the small to the large. But their essence is the same: on one side, a group of people is meant to perform and, on the other, another group is meant to watch. In that space and in that relation, something could happen. We could be in any of these theatres, but we are in this one. In any case, what matters is the performance.
The performance itself begins with a ballet section, a parade of the nineteen dancers performing a pirouette. First up is professional dancer Allison Burns so that the audience gets to see what the movement should actually look like as a reference point. The following non-dancers adapt the movement to their bodies, customize it for their skill level. While dancers can pick up a maximal set of cues because of their training, children and untrained adults only pick up the few that most characterize the movement for them. For example, a young boy simply lifts his arms over his head, actually holding hands, and spins. The exercise is then followed by a grande jeté.
However, what comes across is that it’s not just a matter of skill, but also a matter of comfort with one’s body. Some performers come across as uncomfortable, which stiffens their movement. This is especially important because I feel it plays a large part in the discomfort that many experience with contemporary dance, even as spectators since the audience is always projecting itself onto the dancers. This explains the issues that some have with nudity onstage. Most people couldn’t allow themselves to do what dancers do alone in their own home, let alone on a stage in front of hundreds.
This also partially explains why the children stand out in the improvised dance section. The cliché exists for a reason: they’re not as socially conditioned yet, they are less self-conscious, and they have fewer preconceived ideas about what dance is and what it’s supposed to look like, so their dance is freer. Édouard Lock said that the difference between dancers and non-dancers is in the legs. It’s visible here. Non-dancers make up for it by running around and moving their arms excessively.
Unable to hide behind their skills, the non-professional dancers’ personality shines through: there’s the ham, the shy one, the funny one… The bows section, also using the parade structure, punctuated with applause for every single performer, makes one feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.
Bel deals with the shortcomings that ableism imposes on all of us by having different performers choreograph for the entire group, the way Maïgwenn Desbois had in Six pieds sur terre. Seemingly no one expected a fat man to come out twirling the baton while the others keep dropping theirs. Everyone has something to offer.
Despite its lazy structure, Gala is an undeniable crowd-pleaser. When the audience stood up for a warm standing ovation, it was the non-professional dancers they were applauding. It seems people like to see individuals who look like them onstage. Isn’t that surprising?
June 7 & 8 at 8pm
When the door opens, the action is already unfolding. On the other side of the door, the world is coated in a pinkish hue. A continuous loud high-pitched sound is oozing out. Through the spectators who have already found a seat, we see five dancers moving: Meryem Alaoui, Ellen Furey, Jolyane Langlois, Ann Trépanier, and Amanda Acorn, choreographer of multiform(s).
The audience is sitting on stands surrounding all four sides of the white stage, lending the performance the feel of a sporting event. Appropriately, the dancers are wearing sneakers. The rest of their outfits falls into a contemporary dance trend: nice bordering on fancy clothes that are joyfully mismatched.
Whenever spectators are allowed to sit on multiple sides of the stage, I am always surprised to notice that the feeling of the proscenium stage remains. It reminds me that, despite the conventions of theatre, dance is truly three-dimensional and that it is only ever possible to see from one’s own perspective.
Though the movement differs from one performer to another, it answers to the same constraints: their bodies are forever in motion and involved in repetitions. Back and forth, from one side to the other, like a pendulum. This swinging often leads the cylindrical body into rotations. They reminds us of mechanical toys that inevitably have a limited movement range, except that the dancers’ movement changes over time, ever so slightly, but undeniably. This rocking motion can at times induce motion sickness, an experience the spectators apparently share with the performers. It is an exercise of endurance for the dancers that is hypnotic for the audience.
The performers converge to the middle of the stage, their movement becoming synchronous and picking up speed. Synchronicity focuses the gaze; dissimilarity diffuses it. Synchronicity feels light. It’s like forgetting yourself. Yet when one of the dancers falls out of it, it’s her we’d rather be. She’s the one who looks free.
With its clear concept and perpetual motion, multiform(s) shares many similarities with Henderson/Castle: voyager by Ame Henderson. However, in voyager, dancers can’t repeat any movement so that the end result is less defined, more eclectic. In multiform(s), the repetitions appear to be an outlet, like in Julia Male’s solos. As in Guilherme Botelho’s Sideways Rain and the walking that takes up most of Olivier Dubois’s Tragédie, we also feel that this could go on forever, that in fact it has been.
Different images emerge depending on the body parts that the movement brings into action. Front to back movement looks like prayer; sometimes one might even say like divine possession. Lunges inevitably remind one of the repetitions involved in exercise. And, though the arms never carve the infinity sign in the air, it is seen everywhere. One is even inclined to believe that the dancers might be immortal.
June 5-7 at 9pm
Tickets: 30$ / 30 ans et moins: 25$
De Pluton – acte 1, je garde un souvenir d’un spectacle tout en douceur. Ce que La 2e Porte à Gauche nous réserve pour ce deuxième mariage de jeunes chorégraphes avec des interprètes plus âgés s’avère toutefois plus corrosif.
Il est étonnant que la pièce de Frédérick Gravel soit celle qui s’aligne le plus avec le premier acte, probablement dû au fait que Paul-André Fortier la danse. Les genoux et les coudes fléchis, il se déplace du côté cour au côté jardin en pivotant, les semelles de ses espadrilles rouges glissant contre le sol. Même s’il épouse le corps recroquevillé de Gravel, ses mouvements sont plus soignés et fluides. Je me rends compte que, jusqu’à maintenant, je ne l’ai vu que dans des contextes où il dansait ses propres chorégraphies, de sorte que j’oublie parfois que c’est Fortier que je regarde parce que je ne reconnais pas sa posture habituelle. Je ne reconnais pas tout à fait la chorégraphie de Gravel non plus, qui se fait ici beaucoup plus doux et subtil. C’est la beauté de ce projet.
Catherine Gaudet s’était démarquée avec son solo créé pour Louise Bédard pour acte 1. Il n’est donc pas surprenant de le retrouver ici. Gaudet continue d’y explorer l’un de ses thèmes fétiches, soit la duplicité de l’humain. Bédard est d’abord dos au public en arrière scène, ses expirations flirtant avec les grognements, invoquant simultanément les bébés naissants de Je suis un autre (2012) et les monstres d’Au sein des plus raides vertus (2014). Elle est une bête qu’on cache loin des regards. Ses doigts arthritiques ressemblent plus à des griffes qu’à une main. Lorsqu’elle nous fait face, un sourire se plaque sur son visage tremblotant. Elle veut paraître en contrôle, mais la surface ne peut que craquer, comme toujours chez Gaudet. Ce n’est pas la part animale ou monstrueuse de l’humain qui transparaît ici, mais les troubles de santé physique et mentale. On peut y voir la maladie de Parkinson ou celle d’Alzheimer. C’est à mon humble avis ce que Gaudet a fait de mieux.
Après l’entracte, les spectateurs se retrouvent des deux côtés de la scène pour la pièce de Mélanie Demers, un duo pour Marc Boivin et Linda Rabin. Le musicien Tomas Furey s’avance à un micro sur scène, y va d’un « 3, 4 » mais ne chante pas. C’est Boivin et Rabin qui alterne respectivement « New York, New York » et « Let Me Entertain You », rivalisant d’exhibitionnisme performatif. Ils en sont agressants. Comparativement, Furey nous charme avec son silence, nous offrant une sortie de secours essentielle. C’est la pièce la moins séductrice, la plus abrasive de Demers à ce jour.
On pourrait dire la même chose de celle de Katie Ward, un solo pour Peter James. Des chaises sont éparpillées sur la scène et les spectateurs sont invités à y prendre place. Soir de première, c’est une vingtaine d’adolescentes qui se sont prêtées au jeu, créant une atmosphère particulière. Pour ceux d’entre nous qui ont été témoins des explosions verbalement violentes de James dans des pièces comme Mygale (2012) de Nicolas Cantin, nous devons nous retenir pour ne pas crier « Ne le laissez pas s’approcher de ces jeunes filles! » Heureusement, nous retrouvons plus le ludisme de Ward marié au minimalisme de James, déjà aperçu dans sa collaboration avec Cantin pour Philippines (2015). En fait, cet opus ressemble plus à du Cantin qu’à du Ward. Aucune illusion ici; James joue avec le théâtre, littéralement, c’est-à-dire avec la salle de spectacle elle-même. Les lumières éclairent tout l’espace. Il secoue la rampe des escaliers, il modifie la lumière à la console d’éclairage, il manipule les rideaux en nous disant, « Ça, c’est vrai. » Il lance une balle contre le mur juste pour nous rappeler que le mur est là, pour que l’espace s’impose plutôt que de s’effacer sous l’effet de la performance. C’est dans ses interactions avec le public qu’on approche de la magie, comme lorsqu’il prétend dévisser un tube invisible du ventre d’une des adolescentes pour ensuite le déposer sur une chaise. « Ce n’est pas nous qui créons la magie, » semble-t-il vouloir dire. « C’est vous, spectateurs. »
28-30 mai à 19h
Billets : 40$ / 30 ans et moins : 34$
Here, the performers still create characters, but the world never follows suit. Instead, as can be seen in their insistence on facing the audience, they are merely performing for us. With the loud buzzer that periodically interrupts their performance, they appear like contestants on a reality TV show pathetically vying for our attention.
The show relies on excess (seven performers are onstage for the entire eighty minutes) but, rather than helping in making a particular environment emerge, this merely leads to distraction. Our eyes travel from one to another, noticing that some are merely moving not to be still during the main action and that the three cymbal players look the way I do when I hang out at a bar just hoping someone will take me home so I can get the fuck out of there. These musicians become a too easily accessible exit.
At the FTA back in 2008, I’d accused Marie Chouinard’s obnoxious Orphée et Eurydice of suffering from Middle Child Syndrome. I could say the same of De marfim e carne, which is funny because Freitas cites the myth of Orpheus as an inspiration in the program. Perhaps the artistically gifted Orpheus is ironically performance kryptonite. Maybe those who killed him could hear his so-called divine music after all.
During the show, I also thought about Nicolas Cantin. Last week, I saw his Philippines at the OFFTA. Cantin is definitely not for everyone, but artistically I admire his work, which seems perpetually concerned with figuring out what’s the least that one can do on a stage. I sometimes find myself wishing some shows, De marfim e carne being a perfect example, were doing less.
With its constant “let me entertain you” attitude, it sometimes seems like the show is striving to be a critique of the vacuity of entertainment culture. 1) Yes. 2) And…? 3) Where’s the critique? Because, with its lack of bite, De marfim e carne doesn’t seem to critique so much as to be complacent about the vapidity of entertainment. If anything, it capitalizes on it. It is the artistic equivalent of overconsumption.
Yet, when the dancers come back for an encore, i.e. the worst concert ritual, it seems like they must know they’re acting like the worst. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
June 3 & 4 at 8pm
Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle
Tickets: 39$ / 30 years old and under: 33$
Once they have completed their task, Gayer takes his position behind the console and Lourdais molds the wires left in the corner with his feet. There, he gathers himself, first resting his hands on his ribs, then on his pelvis. When he is ready, he walks backwards to the opposite corner, so slowly that I have time to notice an insect also walking on the stage in the distance. From my perspective, Lourdais is facing me and moving away; to the other half of the audience across the room, he has his back to them and he is getting closer. When the sound becomes so loud that it begins to be painful, Lourdais shakes while I use the ear plugs that were given to us upon entrance. We come to expect the same sluggish pace as in Milieu de nulle part, Lourdais’s last show.
But no. Once Lourdais has crossed the stage, he switches gears, goes back to the regular speed of a task-based approach as he slides all the wires across the floor with one push – he just laid them down! – and Gayer takes his shirt off before lying down on the ground in their place, a microphone by his face. Lourdais takes the nest of wires and buries Gayer under it. This tableau takes place in relative silence, but I don’t remove my earplugs. I can hear my tinnitus and my breathing, like I’m wearing a diving suit. It seems appropriate for Lourdais’s work. I can also hear Gayer’s amplified breathing. It sounds as loud as mine.
Once Gayer has rolled out of his hiding place, Lourdais pulls on one of the wires until it snaps and he falls back with a scream as the lights go out. He taps his shoes against the floor so forcefully it almost looks like flamenco. His arms sway by his side as he walks in a style that’s reminiscent of Broadway. And then there’s something of Flashdance in the way he displays his body as he flies past the audience on both sides of the room. “Want some ‘real’ dance?” Lourdais seems to say. “Well, here it is!”
With each section of La chambre anéchoïque, Lourdais metaphorically lays down his wires before yanking them out from under us, requiring the audience to constantly get used to a new register. Whether these breaks strengthen the work or weaken it is a question each audience member can only answer for themselves.
June 2-4 at 9pm
Tickets: 34$ / 30 years old and under: 28$
In this colourful dump, performers can disappear without leaving the stage or fall from considerable heights without hurting themselves. It is a post-apocalyptic world of overconsumption that lies before us and they are doomed to live in it. They may be able to choose from thousands of articles of clothing, but the choice is unappealing; it’s the only one they have. Their movement translates as play that spurs from idleness, which even comes across as the source of their masturbation and dry humping. They don’t even have the internet.
Every once in a while, unexpectedly, the performers cease their dicking around and break into beautiful song. In juxtaposing the music of Bach with a garbage dump, a thematic kinship emerges with Meg Stuart’s Built to Last (FTA, 2014): how is it possible that the species responsible for this post-apocalyptic mess also created such divine music? As the performers live out the last moments of life on earth in slow motion, we think there might be something redeeming about these creatures after all.
May 29-June 1
Monument-National – Salle Ludger-Duvernay
Yes, Gladyszewski does invoke magic by concealing bodies in darkness, like when Martin Bélanger’s arms appear out of nothingness from behind a strip of light and float in the air. The image recalls Brice Leroux’s Quantum-Quintet (FTA, 2007) and Cindy Van Acker’s Obtus (FTA, 2011). Half-seen, the movement becomes inexplicable. Lights in the sky are a familiar sight; it’s only when they move in unexpected ways that we suspect alien life. It’s for this reason that I’m less convinced by the voice work of the performers, decidedly too human.
For the most part, however, Gladyszewski uses technology to reveal what is always there but which usually goes unseen. Such is the case with cameras that reveal the heat patterns of the human body and of the liquids it comes in contact with. Suddenly, it’s like we’ve entered a psychedelic world where the human body is turned inside out, a world of tie-dye souls and auras as moving skins. The body becomes as malleable as playdough, liquefies before our very eyes. We are witness to the com/motion of the dis/embodied internal. Our bodies are haunted by spirits whose life force is muffled by their shells. It’s otherworldly, yet the internal landscape laid before us is so recognizable that I was tempted to scream, “This is the real world! The world where our bodies appear to be solid is obviously a lie!”
And I was completely sober. That’s why you should see Phos.
Place des Arts – Studio O Vertigo
Tickets: 29$ / 30 years old and under: 23$
First off, let me say that I’ve only been following choreographer Daniel Léveillé’s work since 2006. I’m mentioning this because, though Léveillé’s style remains just as recognizable in Solitudes duo, there are also some noticeable departures, at least to those of us who’ve only been following him for the past decade. Like Mathieu Campeau and Justin Gionet drawing circles with their hips in the first duet, which comes across as downright flirtatious. Léveillé’s choreography looks a little less cold and mechanical, a bit more theatrical.
When Ellen Furey looks up to the ceiling, her eyes are so expressive as to look frightened. For a moment, her interaction with Gionet is even messy; not as a result of the effort required, as is usually the case in Léveillé’s work, but in its very performance.
One could blame the music – which so easily colours our perception of the dance – for these changes. Léveillé predictably goes for Bach and Royer, but surprisingly slips in some classic rock (The Doors and The Beatles). It’s not just the music though. The dance is more languorous. While there must have been duos in Léveillé’s group works, I don’t recall anything ever looking this… coupley. Brianna Lombardo and Emmanuel Proulx hold hands and use all of the resulting arms’ length as tape to wrap around their partner.
Since Léveillé’s movement seems based on an aesthetic rather than on its effect, there’s usually some incidental humour that slips into the choreography. Not so here. We have to wait until the last duet with Campeau and Esther Gaudette to find some humour and it’s calculatedly funny. For starters, the dance is set to The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Given how much Léveillé capitalizes on lifts and gravity, that choice can only be qualified as a joke. As if that weren’t enough, the dancers headbang, make the devil sign, and thrust their hips. How ironic that the more Léveillé’s dancers have clothes on, the more sexual they act. Sometimes, it looks like it could have been choreographed by Virginie Brunelle.
Solitudes duo is, like all of Léveillé’s work, a dance of every moment; there is no climax. Yet, when it ends, it still manages to feel a bit too short.
May 26-28 at 9pm
Agora de la danse
Tickets: 45$ / 30 years old and under: 38$
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