As Canadian citizens, we are consistently being awakened to new and continued challenges, to important questions of race and ethnicity, migration and social inequities, violence and equality. Artists have the need and the desire to tackle these ideas and carve a space that is full to brimming with reflection and subversion. What follows is a consideration of work that I saw in 2014, listed in no particular order. It is also a message of gratitude to those creators who unfailingly push forward, break boundaries, develop their vision and create worlds in which we, as audiences, can be inspired and challenged.
Manuel Roque, Data (September, Usine C)
The logic of this challenging dance resides in Roque’s highly articulate body. It’s a deeply felt and powerful performance, and his stage charisma is readily evident. Not in a showy manner, but in his movement from gentle to fierce, with a seamless fluidity in his body that emphasizes weight, gravity, force and vulnerability. He embodies atavistic, almost tribal, kinetically charged incarnations, exploring dynamics, tensions and counter-tensions in his actions. In a notable sequence using his mouth, he is utterly sublime, showing another aspect of his artistry: his ability to disappear, transforming himself from human to sculpture.
Stéphane Gladyszewski, Tête-à-tête (November, Agora de la danse)
In this audacious, radically visionary work, the intimate one-on-one relationship between the spectator and the performer (Gladyszewski) begins in a cloistered space, and starts in absolute darkness. It is not a claustrophobic place; rather, flashes of light erupt, aiding the eye to adapt to the blackness. Next, it ignites a series of fleeting images (with voice-over) describing moon landings. All this seems innocuous enough, maybe even random. The performer emerges spectrally at first. Perspectives shift incrementally, and due to the artist’s splicing of events, the work references the nature of identity. In this revelatory performance, the barriers between audience and the artist are eclipsed. I can’t even guess at the technical mechanics of what he’s created, a study filled with contrasts of lighting, visual merging and masked psychological fascination. What remains, weeks later, is a memorable, penetrating and dreamlike work of art.
Pina Bausch, Tanztheater Wuppertal, Vollmond (November, Place des Arts)
Vollmond (2006) excels at crossing boundaries. It’s what makes Bausch’s dance-dramas one of the most interesting bodies of work spanning the last quarter century. Early works in her oeuvre would repulse and seduce at the same time, drawing viewers into ethical paradoxes and prompting us to question, for instance, how close Bausch’s images of bodily subjection come to being misogynistic. This is exactly the kind of uncomfortable viewing experience that Bausch’s work would provide, with the choreographer and director (Bausch lists herself as both) casting the viewer in the role of voyeur. Discussing the work would always take the conversation into difficult areas.
Vollmond, by contrast, is a light, very playful, fanciful affair about courtship. It also contains a magnificent and memorable stage design (by Peter Pabst), and features dedicated, committed performances from its ensemble. Bausch, yet again, dresses her performers in flowing gowns and heels for the women, and shirts and trousers for the men. In this heterosexual landscape, the brutality is limited to hair pulling and some shoving about, yet the extremes of ecstasy and danger are always coursing through her layered collage, one of the last works she made before her death in 2009.
Watching this entertaining and remarkable production prompts the thorny discussion about legacy. Maintaining heritage is imperative in the case of the iconic Bausch and her company’s repertory. But institutional turnaround can be tricky, as witnessed in the crisis that ensued after Martha Graham’s death, or the finality that followed Merce Cunningham’s demise (though all his works were videotaped and notated, and the technique is still being taught by some of his dedicated dancers). Neither Graham nor Cunningham reportedly cared much for the future, but does that mean we simply cast their work aside? Some say that the Wuppertal group should concentrate on the genius of a few key vintage works, and leave the lighter, some would say lesser, stuff to the side. I’m not convinced that’s the solution either. Preserving the work for future generations is importantly associated with collective memory, and younger generations need to have a sense of the past, if not direct access to those dances. The discussion continues.
Tedi Tafel, everyday (October, street)
Leading me on this walk through east-end Montréal was Dean Makarenko, a member of Tafel’s ensemble of performers. Certain rules were in place for this “participatory” event: I was not to engage with the performer throughout the period of the walk, either verbally or physically, nor was I to speak with him afterwards. In short, I was to keep my distance.
everyday represents the day-to-day reflections that we might make if we are alone in our thoughts as we traverse a city landscape. As we progress on this journey, over the course of fifty-some minutes, the movements and the gestures Makarenko makes are, for me, less important. What is striking is the desire I have for him to fall out of sight, and then amble along at my own pace and find him again. While at one point, when I see him leaning against the wall of a garage door, I become acutely aware, as I seemingly always have, of the tactile richness of that surface, the faded blandness of the pigment of the paint, and its crackled surface, prompts me to think of the inhabitants of this house. This section of Montréal is home to a cross-section of an up-and-coming generation of gentrified wealth alongside some of the city’s poorest citizens.
Our ambling walk resonates, as does my own sense of privilege at spending time playing tourist in this neighbourhood. On this brilliantly sunny day, I am drawn, as is Makarenko, to the small, random patches of green grass sprouting indiscriminately in the pavement, or on some abandoned lots of the cityscape. He falls to the ground and lies or rolls, and I half expect him to lick the sidewalk, his discovery having such seeming connection. Few people cast a second glance at this man, who appears almost in a dreamlike state. No doubt they are used to such wandering denizens, and certainly they’ve seen much worse. I had a kind of ambivalence to the walk partly because it seemed so familiar and reassuring; however, I was aware, as I often am, of the need to slow down, and reflect on my surroundings, and to conjure up an empathetic response to not only the innate beauty in my midst, but the utter neglect and some of the overriding despair that also envelops us.
Susanna Hood, The Muted Note (October, Tangente)
This original stage work integrates dance, music and the words of the late P.K. Page, one of Canada’s most distinguished poets, and features Hood’s choreography, a suite of eleven songs by Scott Thomson, a quartet of dancers (Ellen Furey, Alanna Kraaijeveld, Bernard Martin and Hood) and live music by The Disguises: Hood (voice), Nicolas Caloia (bass), Yves Charuest (alto saxophone), Pierre Tanguay (drums) and Thomson (trombone). The ensemble brings to life the romantic and modern stirrings in Page’s writing, and the flow of impressions from the sensual world which surrounded her, in a playful, improvisatory mix that’s innovative, inspiring and lively. More than one literary reviewer has commented that the poetry reveals “a heightened and intensified consciousness,” and the dance manifests a muted ecstasy.
Randy Glynn, The Company of Angels, Dancing in the Third Act (September, Twelfth edition of Festival Quartiers Danse)
This entertaining and enthusiastic ensemble piece for an older group of twelve, mainly non-dancers in their sixties and seventies is a great project that accommodates the performers’ varying abilities. Clearly Glynn cleverly sourced the talent and energy in the room. The staging is magic, and the theatrical structure of this hour-long dance is totally professional. The spirit in the hall was a delight and inspiring. The production is not just a feel-good experience, but it’s not a pity performance either. In a world where we obsessively celebrate youth, this dance work subverts notions of what an older generation can do onstage. In spearheading the talents of lesser-seen choreographers, Festival Quartiers Danse is engaging Montréal audiences with enriching and exceptional dance — kudos.
Rhodnie Désir, BOW’T (April, Nineteenth edition of the Festival Vue sur la relève)
This significant evening-length political work explores notions of homeland, and a journey from an immigrant ship to the factory floor. Désir gives the audience entry points to be intrigued and engaged by the restless energy in the work. Percussionist Daniel Bellegarde provides essential support in this fascinating reflection on temporality. Songs, poetry, African rhythms and props serve as anchors, eloquently reflecting on past, present and a future built upon memories of what is left behind.
Matija Ferlin, Sad Sam Lucky (May, Festival TransAmériques)
This vivid recollection of the work of avant-gardist Slovenian poet Srečko Kosovel is set on an ash-covered stage, permeated by the acrid scent of burnt incense. Croatian dance artist Ferlin offers wit and provocation in the piece, through monologues that combine the poet’s words and autobiographical musings. Each eruption of words, full of ellipses and parentheses, is alternately haunting, powerful, or just plain frivolous. He’s a unique and enduring mover, fearless, exceptional and scarily good. He tears into action, his body seizing and releasing. But, as he described in his post-show talk, performing is the easy part of the quotient. Ferlin’s inclination is to transcend the decorative, gauging how much is necessary in performance, eliminating virtuosity to craft other virtuosity, he says. What’s he’s created is honest, sometimes mysterious, turbulent poetry for the stage.
Marites Carino, Vanishing Points
Filmmaker Carino keenly understands the camera. The dancer/choreographers, Tentacle Tribe’s Emmanuelle Lê Phan and Elon Höglund, are not only photogenic, but an immensely pleasing duo extraordinaire, employing a breaking, popping and totally organic method of moving. The clear black-and-white six-minute short employs in large measure full-body tracking shots to capture the encounter of two kinetic souls in an otherwise disconnected world, each edging alone alongside an abandoned triangular house, set in a wintery Montréal. The reveal of their momentary convergence, almost morphing, is magnetic.
View trailer >> vimeo.com/88219891
Zab Maboungou, Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, Mozongi (February, Société des arts technologiques)
This revival of a seminal work, created in 1997, and commemorating twenty-five years of the founding of the company, was mesmerizing. The title translates as “return” and celebrates memory and the particularity of an individual’s physical presence. The urgent rhythmic dancing and drumming, with its strong Central African base, by the nine-member troupe was unrelenting. As a group, the dancers operate akin to a pack, each gesture delivered with power, the physicality demanding on their bodies. Central to Maboungou’s gift is that she plays with energy, embracing mystery and the unknown. That wisdom transcends space and time, and I felt that immensity of spirit extend to the wider audience with an assured embrace.