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Review

How Can We Be Fine?

Festival Quartiers Danses’ quadruple bill By James Oscar
  • Ainsley Hillyard, Alison Kause, Alida Kendell, Richard Lee and Kate Stashko in We’ll Be Fine by Mélanie Demers / Photo by Marc J. Chalifoux

Montréal September 13, 2017, Cinquième Salle, Place des Arts

Under the auspices of diversity, Festival Quartiers Danses offered works by Morgane Le Tiec, Anne-Flore de Rochambeau, Elizabeth Suich and Mélanie Demers. Common among the four works was a theme of “emergent beings” – four performances that might have been highlighting the inklings of “beings” soon arriving at a frontier, “beings” that have reached a frontier, “beings” that have already passed a frontier – four presentations that might have been highlighting the hushed murmurs of said beings while tottering along these very frontiers. The evening’s performances might have asked, “How might one differently totter, differently walk or differently move beyond our present fragile contemporary lives?” This theme is particularly evident in Demers’ work We’ll be Fine, which closed the program.

How can we be fine?

And if diversity was the auspice under which the evening was being presented, the presentations did carefully navigate terrain toward recomplicating the discussion of diversity in and through the lenses of seeing “difference” as rupture – ruptures that a might point us toward something “new” beyond our present fragile contemporary offerings, through new movements, new matters or new states of being and set against a backdrop of wearying and staid homogeneous grain.

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Morgane Le Tiec’s Qualia

Marie Chouinard regular Morgane Le Tiec presented her work Qualia, and in doing so embodied the ruptures inherent in challenging a staid plane. Qualia refers to the singular form of subjective experience and a homing in on the particular aspects of that thing or sensation. It is not breath, but the redness of breath; not just an orange, but this blood orange right here, right now. Le Tiec’s Qualia shows the passages of a protagonist seeking to get to the heart of something.

Against a silver glowing tarp that bristled as though the theatre contained large gusts of wind, and then shined like the brightness of fire, Le Tiec’s concave back shuddered as though something might explode from it.

Mixing brute experimentation with her highly developed technical prowess, Le Tiec’s body traced a continuous series of circular gestures influenced by painter Marie-Josée Roy’s elongated figures, with their stretched heads, hands and feet frantically extended outward in all directions. The work moved from initial jerking and jutting sequences and soon reached a smoother stride, until she returned to the primal – ultimately faltering back to the stuttering motions of a body fighting against something robotic and morbidly contorted.

Similar to viewing the works of Le Tiec’s peers, Suich and de Rochambeau, seeing Qualia in the Cinquième Salle felt like being in an intimate warehouse of private dance and private hallucinations. Qualia maintained a certain intimacy with the live violinist and also through Le Tiec’s propelled expression. She was an intrepid body in what felt like clandestine performance art happening. However, at times the jutting and jerking came to be demonstrative rather than taking advantage of a reserve or reticence that might have given the artist more room to properly mine something more singular during the performance.

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Anne-Flore de Rochambeau’s Fadeout

An elegant fluorescent light fixture hangs in a black void. Legs and arms gesticulate below this strip of light, above which a black void obscures the spot where the head of this body might be. The figure’s fists tighten below the register of this strip of light and play against this ineffable limit line. Is this body trying to escape? De Rochambeau’s repetitive motions in only the bottom half of her body were masterful, like a chiaroscuro Buster Keaton, with each micromovement expressing a kind of biopolitical regime this body might be fighting against.

Up against what de Rochambeau describes as a “study of our perpetually transforming body” – a “questioning [of] the body’s capacity to self-regulate upon the appearance of anomalies,” here the body emerges out of this single-hanging light fixture frame. But it can never quite escape. One understands that the light might represent some kind of godhead or rectilinear authority. Watching the minutiae of restricted movement in that restricted fluorescent light fixture strip space was pure pleasure.

Paradoxically, later in the performance she moved from this regimented structure under the light fixture to having the freedom to perform freely around the stage. Could it be that there might have been more hope for this body while stuck in the frame and void? Was there an allowance – a kind of beckoning to the viewer – that in the slightest motions that happened within that restricted frame, there could be the minutiae of something slowly growing? De Rochambeau’s exploration of the performance art realm was delightful and reminiscent of Bruce Nauman or Samuel Beckett’s Not I, in which a talking mouth hangs aloft in a void.

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Elizabeth Suich’s Movida

In Elizabeth Suich’s Movida two women walk stealthily, continuously, closely following the lines of a circle, yet also with an undercurrent of celebratory transgression. The women, almost nude and erotically charged, moved in a slow rhythm deconstructing the moves of Latin dance, along the lines of this “circus ring.”

The non-stop, centripetal walk seemed like an infinite meditation – along the circle into another tighter circle and continuing on to a centre. Are they walking aimlessly into an infinite circus, hypnotized, but off-script? Are there aspects of “resistance” in this wayward, endless entranced walk?

Ultimately Suich’s choreography might have remained on the level of representation without successfully transforming. It might have stayed in the kitsch – in the repetitive, morose and endless walk if it weren’t for a certain numinous element in the undertones of Movida’s motifs of the feminine twinship of the two dancers, reminiscent of the “hallowed” scenes of imperiled yet active feminine sisterhoods in films by Ingmar Bergman like Persona or The Silence.

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Mélanie Demers and Good Women’s We’ll Be Fine

The mantle to most radically present ruptures for this “diversity” section of Festival Quartiers Danses might have fallen to the headliner, Mélanie Demers, whose We’ll Be Fine presented her characteristically searing analysis of society’s mix of quiet neutrality and the violent Anthropocene.

We’ll Be Fine uses dexterity and “rocambolesque” irony. With its provocative and violently acerbic humour, we are unsure whether we are the target of these rhetorical speech acts or just an unlikely passerby: the work had the uncanny appeal of not letting the audience know whether we were being screamed at or sung to. Demers viscerally succeeds in making us an imaginative trespasser of her, and ultimately our, world of meaningless slogans, one-night stands and narcissistic fever dreams. It was a pure pleasure to watch Good Women Dance Collective collaborate with Demers and show that rare balance of heartfelt theatricality and strong movement skills – all performed effortlessly.

The dancers of Good Women, sitting in a uniform row of technicolour blue chairs, start with what feels like the longest-lasting stare into the audience – right at us, right into us, right with us. A set of unwavering stares that seek to attune the audience to the fact that this performance will be about us, about them, about we. After the penetrating stare that successfully tunes us into the “We are all complicit mode,” the dancers begin to furiously shake their heads. Now, not only are we all to be the subject of what we will watch onstage but also we too might be one of these crazy human animals shaking our heads in furious irredeemable circles. The dark irony is there right away. The black comedy is waved aloft. We are not being spoken to but rather spoken with. We are watching them dance “for” and dance “with” and dance “at.”

After the initial stare and an index finger pointed up like a confrontational supposition, we watch the dancers with eye-popping pathos. They furiously and disapprovingly shrug their shoulders up down. And then word slogans cascade. Reminiscent of Demers’ recent Animal Triste, irreverent word constructions scream at us: they tell us we are stuck in the spectacle, and crude, slogan-type phrases are logged at us. The underlying reverberation is to “make us” wake the hell up from our commodity-driven, drunken, narcissistic slumber: “art, make it, fake it,” “social anxiety, no place like home,” “Kool-Aid, assisting cult suicides,” “rape-culture, get some.”

The row of blue chairs, a yellow-dressed protagonist on the floor stuck in a motion, a helping hand pulling her along the floor, again imposing stares at us, a collective frenzied hair shake in endless circles by the brood of dancers, a shadow-dancing couple almost touching – portraying the fear of closeness, a hilarious and memorable masturbation scene by a female dancer showing the other extreme of this society’s crude phantasmagoric proclivities, emulations of the violent, hubristic aspects of porn, wayward brood moving with maddening speed. Demers deploys consistent residues of empty, silent spaces as a backdrop for the throttling and diatribe-like dance. There is dance and no dance, word and no word. Extremes of silence and the rupture of yells. And ultimately a performer says, “When it is chopped and served … once you cut off the chatter … the spin … you’ll see we will be fine.” The piece is over.

As Demers says of the work, it “oscillates between extreme physicality and moments of nothingness.” She is able to match sudden silences with long curated silences, which allow us (since it is clearly us this is addressing, as the first initial stare makes clear) to ponder, think and ruminate rather than just metaphysically falter deeper into contemporary society’s black comedy hole.

The message is clear, as Demers has intimated to this reviewer, of the need for difference, for rupture, for a “splash of something.” She continues:

“The live show is a perfect place to question the enigmas of our lives. As soon as the stars align … what might follow might be in fact be perilous; what might follow might be something forbidden; what might follow might be a light; what might follow might be a splash of something; what might follow might be something that reminds us of ourselves. … Here is what I aspire to: to something that would put us in danger. Something that would wake us up again, that would rally us, that would resuscitate us. Something that might enfranchise us like a plot of land. Like a space of freedom. For once, leaving our masks, guards and distorted representations behind.”

The dances seemed to commonly show a kind of entropy, paradoxically placed at the heart of a moving machine – a kind of entropy perhaps resultant of our Anthropocene present.

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