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.
It’s not often we get to see intergenerational friendships dealt with such directness and subtlety as in Brooklyn Touring Outfit’s Co. Venture, presented at Centaur Theatre’s Wildside Festival. There is David Vaughan: 91 years old, British, dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, and archivist of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. And there is Pepper Fajans: 31 years old, American, designer, builder, performer, carpenter, and personal assistant to Merce Cunningham.
Neither of them appears onstage at first. It is rather a large wooden board that slides out from backstage, moving across the floor – part of the set, surely – but that then disappears through another door… before coming back onstage. As it slides away, it reveals Vaughan, sitting on a chair. When the board falls down, we think of the huge wall that comes tumbling down with a powerful gust of wind in Sasha Waltz’s Körper, though that’s not what happens here; the board turns out to be so light it barely makes a sound.
Vaughan speaks and we listen. That accent. That deep voice. When Fajans joins him onstage, they begin to reminisce about the past, about how they met working for Cunningham. We can see Fajans’s eyes looking inside his own head, trying to remember his lines (successfully). It’s endearing. It almost looks like he’s trying to remember the actual events. Plus it was the first show of the run; the text is bound to come back to him.
Fajans periodically returns to the board. As he handles it, it inevitably shapes his body, flattening it, making it more angular, reminding us of Cunningham’s geometric choreography. Vaughan remains in his seat. “I can’t stand on one leg anymore,” he will later tell us. Co. Venture is also about dis/ability. Fajans sits next to his friend and together they dance with great economy, gently tapping their feet and waving their arms before them. It’s so small, yet there’s an undeniable magic. It’s amazing what can happen when you meet people on their own turf, like choreographer Maïgwenn Desbois does.
“Use your body,” Fajans says, as he dances vigorously. That sentence means different things to different people. There is an awkwardness to his own movement, like it’s too big for him; he always seems to be overreaching, jumping just a bit too far. We can see the struggle, the trembling, just as we did when the Cunningham Company last passed through Montreal at Festival TransAmériques in 2010. I’d never made a link between Cunningham and Daniel Léveillé, though now it seems obvious.
Fajans rests his arms on a lengthy stick, turning himself into a scarecrow-like cross. Then, it’s large skeletal puppets – flat heads resting on three long pieces of wood pivoting around the screws holding them together – that shape and replicate his body, awkward elongated limbs extending into space.
It’s hard to do a show like Co. Venture justice. It’s so simple, yet so charming and touching. Too rarely are dis/ability and intergenerational friendships explored in contemporary North America. After Cunningham had a stroke, he lost control of one of his arms. Still, he kept finding ways to move. “He found more and more ways to do less and less,” says Vaughan. It reconciles one with life and ageing.
Tickets: 16$ / Students or under 30 years old: 13$
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