A Certain Selection of Dance
Editor’s Note: This May marked the inaugural program of the Montréal-based dance and theatre event, Festival TransAmériques. Since the 2003 demise of the longstanding, biennial FIND (Festival international de nouvelle danse), Montréal audiences have been without a dedicated dance festival of international scope. After a long wait and a series of proposals vetted by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du québec, among other stakeholders, Festival TransAmériques received the green light as an annual dance and theatre festival, with Marie-Hélène Falcon as festival director. In fact, this FTA simply gives a new name and configuration to the former FTA (Festival de théâtre des Amériques), also directed by Falcon, which featured primarily theatre. To cover the dance programming at this year’s premiere event, “The Dance Current” invited writers Marie Claire Forté (Ottawa) and Philip Szporer (Montréal) to exchange their views in an e-mail conversation. Here are their evocative and emphatic impressions.
Marie Claire Forté (MCF):
My FTA experience was true to the bustle of networking, conferences and performances of a festival, especially with the IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) Annual Plenary being held at the same time. As I attended the former Montréal-based FIND (Festival international de nouvelle danse) only twice, I did not compare the two only to note, of course, a sparser show program — nine dance performances and ten theatre performances over sixteen days — and many Canadian dance artists presented in off-festival programming.
With the exception of Dave St-Pierre, I found both the Canadian and international works I saw established a clear movement vocabulary and rarely, in the hour and hour-plus performances, changed or exhilarated the set body language or tone. I admire this coherence and applaud it in the work of Antionija Livingstone and Heather Kravas and of Brice Leroux. However, I admit to longing for a movement journey.
“Perspectives Montréal” by Van Grimde Corps Secret is a case in point. Despite the intervention of four theatre directors — including the acclaimed Marie Brassard who joins the dancers on stage — Van Grimde’s movement vocabulary barely moves beyond the slicing abstract bodies she presents in the lobby, before we are seated in the theatre. A painter, a video artist, live musicians, and a singer, Anna Liani, also appear on stage. Layers of significance and sensuality almost reach me when Brassard and Liani interact with the dancers, but they are always replaced with a sharp line, an impossible contortion and a hand referencing a rib cage. This open work, as the choreographer refers to it, is heavy with visual elements: a V-shaped catwalk, a small shag carpet, a long origami projection screen suspended over the space, sound and video tables at two ends, musicians along one side … I feel there is almost no room for myself as a viewer. I am curious as to your experience of the tension between Van Grimde’s vision and those of her collaborators.
Philip Szporer (PS):
Thanks for kicking things off. I have so many impressions of what I’ve seen and heard over the last days that I feel a bit overwhelmed — and, I have to admit, undernourished. First, a response to complement your comment on the overall nature of the Festival TransAmériques. Pulling off this kind of huge endeavor should never be mistaken for something easy. So it’s important to applaud all concerned for shepherding this new entity, combining dance and theatre, to Montréal stages and audiences.
That said, Maguy Marin’s “Umwelt”, while a sobering and visually striking work by a celebrated, prolific choreographer, just wasn’t the potent, shattering experience it was marketed to be. And based on numerous post-performance lobby conversations, many festival-goers left the show feeling flat and bored. FTA wasn’t just kicking off any old season, it was the beginning of a new era, damn it!
I was aching for a work that would force me to re-consider my take on things. I was looking for new vocabulary, an arresting performance, or a cultural connection that would make me work to understand difference. Show me something monumental, or make the work deceptively simple. Make me confront what I do not know.
In Van Grimde’s “Perspectives Montréal”, I was impressed with the expansive ideas and the innovation of her collaborative team: the elongated video panels (by Martin Lemieux) stretching diagonally across the space; the seating design which allowed the audience to line the four walls of the Agora de la danse space, in sections two or three rows deep, giving the performance area breath and perspective; and with the beautiful lighting by Éric Belley, which enhanced all of the above. Musically, composer-performers Thom Gossage and Miles Perkins hit all the right notes, with a fabulous score, creating a charged energy.
Knowing, before entering the space, about the collaborative nature of the production, I was not clear about how the theatre artists Martine Beaulne, Dominique Leduc, Alice Ronfard and Marie Brassard would re-invent Van Grimde’s physical vocabulary (which Van Grimde would then shape or “re-orchestrate”), and, perhaps more importantly, how they would grasp her structuring of a work. These questions remain unanswered.
When Brassard, who is an exciting performer, first enters, she has a walk-on, literally. She comes on, sits and, I swear I turned my head for a second, then she was gone. And then she didn’t return for what seemed like forty-five minutes. I was floored. I don’t want to say that I wasn’t interested in what Van Grimde’s dancers were going to do, but I wanted serious time with Brassard. Happily, I was lulled into another mind space with Perkins tick-tocking on his bass, flicking away as the dancers crawled around, as if in some animalistic state, while Anna Liani, with her Bjork-like alto, sang nonsense lyrics (à la Cirque du Soleil),in a pleasant, though innocuous manner.
Van Grimde is fascinated, even obsessed, with the body and how the body is informed by information and the transmission of ideas. A major focus of her work over the last few years involves building a body of phrases or sections that can then be used in an improvisatory fashion in performance. As you say, they cut the space in tangents, geometrically sectioning the body with jutting arms, thrusting legs, riffing off impulses and tensions in the body. The four dancers (Esther Gaudette, Ceinwen Gobert, Beit Jentzsch and Pierre-Marc Ouellette) have nicely centred bodies, but they lack a maturity needed to fully invest in the fluidity and the mathematical precision of the work. Some seemed to be merely marking their paces.
Brassard did eventually return, reciting lines about fear and death, engaged in a heady tête-à-tête conversation with Van Grimde herself, who was seated in one of the front rows (I wonder, weren’t the dancers freaked that she was watching them throughout, mentally taking notes?). Brassard then canoodled most enjoyably with a couple of the dancers (all of them whispering vague nothings in a multitude of languages, or just grunting or gasping), and then, best of all, engaged in a cute little disco dance with them.
If what I’ve just written (that last part) makes it’s sound captivating — let me be clear, it was a concept gone astray, and at an hour-and-a-half in length, way too long.
Oh, and I know that we’re not supposed to talk too much about the international fare. But Brice Leroux?? It was like Pilobolus without the entertainment. How many ways can you move your forearm? Apparently, eighteen. There we were in the total darkness watching those arms waving. For close to an hour. I won’t get into my thoughts on all those assertions about quantum mechanics.
Those first three performances made me feel grumpy. How did things progress for you?
I saw Maguy Marin’s “Unwelt” last year and the FTA promotions brought it right back to me this year, with the festival’s particular accent on the intersection of dance and theatre. In the hour-long performance, dancers filter through mirrored hallways, presenting ever-changing, banal day-to-day snippets that unfold at a constant pace in a loud wind tunnel. I remember being bored, but it was a potent experience for me. I was engaged by the production of these images, and what I imagined of the backstage organization of seemingly infinite costumes and props. The fabrication of this clean replica of reality was elaborate and refined, but failed to evoke something other than the fabrication itself.
As for Brice Leroux’s minimal “Quantum Quintet”, I was quite moved by its simplicity. Perhaps it was the contrast with Van Grimde’s oversaturated endeavour that I saw earlier in the afternoon that worked for me. In “Perspectives Montréal”, I felt that the harsh abstract movement was all dressed and up and had no place to go. The abstraction in “Quantum Quintet” was so precisely honed in comparison, in your words “deceptively simple”. The novelty of sitting in a theatre so dark I couldn’t see my hands (Leroux even covered the exit signs), and seeing this precise and repetitive ballet of glowing white forearms was compelling, though I admit, not riveting. My mind wandered as it does when I contemplate visual art. As with Marin and Van Grimde, I wondered why Leroux did not expand on the movement vocabulary.
My next FTA experience was a day of panel discussions regarding the profession of the dramaturge. Because of my work as a dancer and choreographer with Peter Boneham and Le Group Dance Lab in Ottawa, I am most intrigued by discussions surrounding a choreographer’s resources. The strongest image that lingers for me after this panel is of the dramaturge as a door in the creative process that opens onto the outside world, and as a person who continuously contextualizes the work and develops a language with which to discuss it. This seems particularly important in advertising a show: as you said, Marin’s work was not the experience it was marketed to be.
My next stop was Sarah Chase’s program at L’Agora de la danse: “A Certain Braided History” and “The Disappearance of Right and Left”. As “A Certain Braided History” announces, Sarah Chase and her friend and colleague Andrea Nann present us with a dialogue on the intersecting moments of their biographies, from a memorable David Bowie concert to the suffering of their brothers. I wonder how you react to Chase’s work? I find I am often overwhelmed by the earnestness of the story telling, and through this, I accept the overlay of ordinary-looking and repeated movement sequences, often soft and gestural. I glimpse how memory invents the past, as Chase and Nann often correct each other, or explain how what the other just said is, in fact, impossible.
Peggy Baker then comes on for the solo “The Disappearance of Right and Left” with her remarkably long limbs and crisp attack. Contrary to Chase and Nann who dance and talk simultaneously, Baker dances and then talks. Separate from the words, the choreography looses some magic, but Baker’s stories surprise and touch me: claiming her name in front of Martha Graham, being saved from noxious gas fumes in a small New York apartment … I wonder if the stories would be as potent without the dancing and suspect not, as Chase speaks of “dancing the mind” in her work. Does the chemistry of words and movement in reach you?
So much to talk about. Here’s one more (and final) thought about the Maguy Marin piece: I felt so down after the show, and the seat wasn’t comfortable to boot (so that didn’t help!). The dance was kind of an assault on the senses, very Beckett, subjecting the viewer to all this monotony, sameness, routine of daily living, no outcome. A friend commented that “subir” (French for “to be subjected to”), was the word that came to her mind.
Again, not a festival opener. I remember when FIND began (back in 1985), Pina Bausch opened the festival with a show (“Kontakthof”) that people talked about for years. Not quite what I’d say about this one from Marin, though I found it stimulating on a number of levels. It does make me remark on what you said about the beauty of the production — the stunning set, the perfection of everything. Is that what is necessary these days to sell a show, even a potentially subversive one? In other words, if they’re going to hand over seventy bucks for a show, are people demanding that they better get something lovely, and not too grotesque?
Following along on the same comfort concept, why didn’t Marin have the show play out for just an hour, why not twenty-four hours straight? Why not have us straggle out, truly exhausted and depleted? I had the occasion to publicly speak with the dancers after the second night’s showing, and I asked if the current political and social realities affected their performance, or even how they prepared for a performance, and they blithely responded that politics and social conditions had nothing to do with the piece. Really, I thought? The notion of running away from content seemed to be in the air. A few nights later came Lia Rodrigues’ ketchup-splattered “Incarnat”, another piece wherein a choreographer coyly distances herself from politics. Why are choreographers expressing such fear, first admitting to one thing (as the media kit descriptions suggest), and then pulling back in live interviews?
Just a quick word about Leroux: I was nasty in that last round. So I take it back (a bit). He’s a mathematician, and we only saw one formula. There, that’s much more constructive.
As the panel moderator, I was fascinated by the dance dramaturge dialogue with Bettina Milz and Marianne van Kerkhoven, who are both well-established in the field. It was wide ranging, going from the specifics and definitions of the profession to creative concerns. What struck me most of all is that the work of the dance dramaturge is still, very much, uncharted territory. I wish I had pressed the women further to clarify what distinguishes dance and theatre practices. As for the other the other dialogues on the topic of dramaturgy, unfortunately I could not attend, so I can’t comment on the substance of those meetings.
My favorite show of the festival was the Sarah Chase-Andrea Nann duet. I love the intimacy of what Chase does, how she draws you in with simple, clear movements, and surprises you with her stories. They are, as one audience member told me, so West Coast — i.e., very “granola” — and perhaps that’s the earnestness that you speak of. But I’m fond of how Chase sustains a pastiche of personal writing and ideas, and works them with enticing playfulness.
What was equally satisfying was how Nann worked herself into Chase’s world. I have always thought about Chase as a solo performer: how could someone else relay those stories in the same measured, detailed and expressive manner? “A Certain Braided History”, which was commissioned by Nann’s company (Dreamwalker Dance), is in fact both their stories. Nann doesn’t have the same connected tone to her voice as Chase (who, I’ve always said, surprises me with how meditative her somewhat nasal voice can be), but she’s game and an equal partner in this interwoven tale of friendship, rupture and adolescent discovery. Chase reveals her ideas like keepsakes, and her pure, powerful prose is, for me, like stumbling upon a barrel filled with images, dreams and half-naked introspection. And there’s wit too, and irony. Through the layered intersections of movement ideas, the meanings of the stories — breathtakingly simple — leave their mark.
“The Disappearance of Right and Left” made me somewhat uncomfortable. Not because of Peggy Baker per se, (I loved watching her extension and her ability to define space), but because the magic of Chase’s performances, for me, is always rooted in the fascination with her speaking and moving concurrently. Chase once told me, “It’s kind of like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time as you’re talking. You really have to focus in a different way.” But the choreography didn’t ask Baker to do that. As much as I found her life stories were personal and full of resonance (her Graham tale needs to be published!), she seemed quite nervous speaking to the crowd — although less so as the evening progressed — and it made me uneasy.
At this point, what I missed at the festival were the new voices. Where was the platform for the next generation? Why was there no acknowledgement in the programming that such a vital part of our community exists? Since it couldn’t be found in the festival proper (apart from Dave St. Pierre, perhaps), some presenters asked me where they could see some new blood. One of the events I suggested they see was the Pixel Projects, Erin Flynn’s late-night movement omnibus, co-produced this time with Ame Henderson and Peter Trosztmer, and featuring a raft of talented younger types, including Katie Ward, Thea Patterson, Frédérick Gravel, and others (including yourself). I have to admit I didn’t attend the shows, but I have attended other Pixel events and am a big supporter of this kind of endeavour.
An overall comment that is not related to the FTA programming or organization: the “Off-TransAtlantiques” seemed overwhelming. Lots of people selling their goods, shows back-to-back-to-back, no air, no time. What I liked in the Pixel offering was that Flynn et al just wanted to show the work (in a couple of music venues), have a good time, and bring in some new blood to see dance.
Lots more to say, but I’ll hand the platform back to you.
The off-festival activities were indeed quite extensive and highlighted the main weakness of the festival programming. Rather than accenting the panoply of artists, the FTA highlighted a select few. Despite director Marie-Hélène Falcon’s hope of “sharing multiple visions of our world”, I mostly saw better-funded and established visions.
This leads me back to a point I made in my opening comment, regarding the coherence within the individual performances. These established visions had a same-ness in their approach to choosing one mode or tone and sticking with it: Marin’s unending banal images; Van Grimde’s incisive contortions; Chase’s soft, sweeping motions; Rodrigues’ blood/ketchup-soaked fear vignettes … As I said, I admire this, but wish I had seen Dave St-Pierre’s sprawling pop work during the festival to counter-balance the tameness of these works. As it was, I saw “Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde” a few weeks prior in Ottawa. I know he changed some elements, namely removing an excerpt, so I will leave you to open the door on that one.
A word about Lia Rodrigues, as I took a workshop with her before I saw the performance, in which she spoke of her decision to build a space for her company in a “favela”, a slum in central Rio de Janeiro. “Incarnat” is the second of three works produced thus far in this displacement. After a brief and apparently random Cunningham-esque romp, the dancers take the stage, often alone and naked, and decorate themselves in various ways with ketchup, obviously substituted for blood. From the performance and the workshop, I gather that she is interested in representing more than commenting, as seems to be the case with Marin. If artists are to reveal the world in new ways, I venture that representation without the supporting commentary is not enough.
This leads to my disappointment with “Crépuscule des oceans”, Daniel Léveillé’s new work that drew much media attention. I read “Crépuscule” as a continuation of his last work, “La pudeur des icebergs”. Slow, difficult lunges and balances, tours en l’air, sustained positions and a slow, consistent rhythm — yet another work that stated a point and stuck to it. There is violence in “Crépuscule”, best portrayed by the dancers doubling over and slapping the palms of their hands on the floor, worst portrayed by a recurring martial arts-styled kick and a one-off flash of the middle finger. The dancers perform a succession of difficult dance movements, often from a balance on demi-pointe in a wide stride position. Small unison groups repeat a front-facing sequence and overlap with other small groups, creating a stretched-out canon evoking the tides. Beethoven’s piano sonatas wave in and out of silence. For these tidal sections, the two women are dressed in black bodysuits and the five men in black shorts and white t-shirts. Once the canon is exhausted, nude dancers come out and perform duets. The intimacy of the difficult lifts and flips draws me in much more than the unison, which resumes once the duets finish. The group followed by duet format repeats several times before everybody accumulates, sitting cross-legged in a low, circus ring pool of light. A few frog croaks echo and the calm stillness is worthy of an ending.
However, music, bright lights and four new dancers join the crew to build a bigger tide section till we are left with a lone swimmer. The appearance of the new dancers lacked elegance. The contrast of their fresh energies was jarring, and I could not help but imagine them warming up endlessly back stage for over three quarters of an hour. As with Marin’s work, the dance started referring to its own construction. I am still shocked at Léveillé’s response to a question regarding the supplementary dancers in the post performance chat. He spoke of creating a bigger accumulation of bodies, and of the desire to include local dancers from cities his company might tour in. I am afraid the outreach initiative was poorly framed.
Coming back to representation, Léveillé spoke of his use of costumes, and how the group sections used costumes to indicate socialized beings whereas the intimacy of the duets called for nudity. His choice of dancewear as costumes, he noted, inscribed the dancers as dancers. Indeed, his use of nudity is eloquent as, without clothes, the performing body does not, for me, reference any particular context. Confining the body to “dancer” greatly reduced the breadth of expression of his work. How did you read the costumes? Finally, I have difficulty overcoming my impression that much of the movement vocabulary is quite damaging to the body, namely the repeated jumps landing heavily on almost straight legs. I wonder if you feel this? I am curious if this reaction is due to my background as a dancer who has experienced serious injury.
Well, Dave St-Pierre was a blast of confrontation, excess, with some beauty thrown in for good measure. Just like he’s implied in the title, “Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde”, St-Pierre doesn’t want to make the show a comfortable outing. First we had some physical comedy, a bit of slapstick, with the performers clamoring through the rows, getting stuck, piling up. Soon after, the cast re-assembles on stage, the lights dim momentarily, and then the real frantic action begins. St-Pierre has “the blonds” — the ten guys in the troupe — running through the auditorium, nude, with blonde wigs fluttering, shrieking, playing part “dumb blonde”, part “naive clown”, part “fairy”, waving their tushes in people’s faces, sitting on laps, and explicitly breaking that fourth wall. I liked the rough energy, the wild side that rarely gets expressed in Canadian contemporary dance. It’s hard to be impassive in the face of that kind of provocation.
Enrica Boucher is the host for the evening, and she’s got a deadpan expression and a flirtatious tone, that combines “seen it all” with “come and see me”. Boucher also wrote her lines, and kudos to her. The words are warped, witty, ironic and incisive. The script is part cultural commentary — “Dancers are cheap labour. They do it for nothing, and for peanuts”; part social indictment — “Oh God, I used to be just like her. She looks like a bunny rabbit”, or “You really want a show about tenderness? Losers!”. It’s filled with wisps of fun translation and plays on words. After twenty minutes, she says to the crowd, “You’ve survived. Who knows what will happen to you?”
St-Pierre is someone who picks up material wherever he can find it — the women marching around in heels reminded me of Jean-Pierre Perreault’s “Stella”, or perhaps more familiarly, the rhythmic sound of feet hitting the stage referenced Perreault’s “Joe”. His last image, of the cast — again nude — gliding across the water-soaked stage, was something straight from the pages of Jan Fabre. Is it conscious plagiarism, or an unconscious gleaning of whatever he’s read, seen or spoken about? Could it be an extrapolation of a generational ethical blank, where YouTube invades every computer with every possible image, without attribution or acknowledgment or consent?
My other beef with St-Pierre is that he doesn’t seem to know how to edit, or is incapable of understanding timing. We see the blonds at least one too many times (they return on three or four occasions), and instead of choreography, he’ll have a mass of people just rush across stage and then rush back. It fills gaps, but doesn’t tell me much.
St-Pierre does, though, create gorgeous moments. At one points the “blonds” come forward on stage, and slowly evolve back into men. Then they start hitting their faces. The slaps get harder as they evolve in their male guise. Their cheeks get fiery red, and some have tears welling up. It’s powerful stuff. Then in a split second, they’re done, and they retreat. A young woman steps forward into a strip of light, and proceeds to spin once or twice, and with each spin one of the guys come forward and plants a kiss on her cheek. It is tender and heartbreaking.
There’s lots more visual stimulation: the guys simulating jerking off into their wigs, our host humping a cake, free hugs for the audience. Toward the end of the show, the host admonishes, “You did not come here to be comfortable.” Mission accomplished. Or, as she then tells us, “Well done. Bien cuit!”
A curious bit of social anthropology was on view in “Uqquuaq, l’Abri”, performed by the HuntnDance company of Montréal and Igloolik. Geneviève Pepin and Laurentio Q. Arnatsiaq created, conceived and performed the thirty-five-minute work. Set up as an installation, in which a pole structure/shelter is the central image, the piece purports to unite traditions from north and south. As the audience enters, Arnatsiaq is seated gnawing on some rope, while Pepin is weaving wool into a freestanding fibre art sculptural wall/environment.
Someone told me later that the performance reminded them of a diorama. We see on video a man beating a drum (he later beats the drum live), we watch people out on the land, hunting and fishing and the like. In the last minutes of the piece, Pepin and Arnatsiaq — she tall and slim, he short and squat — finally interact, dancing an awkward little waltz to Neil Diamond’s “Beautiful Noise”. Prior to that, Pepin’s movement seemed more like an exercise in “expression corporelle”, the body weaving any which way. Nice for a party, not so interesting on stage. But here’s one of my biggest concerns: the use of video. Why not hire someone who can actually shoot an image, or get an editor to edit the footage with some degree of skill, and why as audience members should we be subjected to almost un-watchable, shaky home movies? I’m not asking for slick, just a degree of competence.
I’ve not read about Daniel Léveillé’s strategy for his “Crépuscule des Océans”, but I think I understand why people are crowding theatres to see it: he’s assembled some beautiful bodies, and that will always draw a crowd, Beethoven’s music is sublime and non-threatening, and the repetitive movements (as you’ve expertly described them) are easy to understand. Stripping things to the basics works for Léveillé and for a new audience, too, I’d imagine. But for me it was more of what we had seen in his previous group works, “Amour, acide et noix” and “La Pudeur des icebergs”. I was fascinated to read about how he explained his use of new dancers in the last section of the piece as outreach (?!). I thought he was introducing the new crew, as a precursor, or introduction, for the upcoming (if there is one) sequel. It felt awkward and looked just plain weird to see a new group of dancers enter the scene at that late point.
What bothered me, as it did you, was the toll on the dancers’ bodies. At least that’s my assumption. I have to say I have not spoken to any of them, and perhaps they are feeling fit. Those lunges filled me with admiration, at first. But, oh my, those difficult dance movements looked painful after a while.
I’ve always chuckled when Léveillé has commented that our skin is our costume. It’s true, and equally true that you can’t superimpose meaning when there isn’t any. The dancer-wear costumes (shorts and such) seemed to accent the performers’ musculature and physiques, but that’s all I got out of that choice.
Just a quick comment on another showing that I saw in the “off” register. Lynda Gaudreau’s “Clash” (involving Karine Denault, Katie Ward, kg Guttman, Line Nault, Ame Henderson and Dana Gingras) left me mystified. The public was invited to glimpse the efforts of the choreographers who have been in a residency situation periodically over the past months. I got a sense of the communal nature of the project, and I fully subscribe to the notion of process; but without context, i.e., whose sketch am I watching, I haven’t a clue why I’ve been asked to witness the work. I don’t need chapter and verse, just let me know in two or three sentences what your tendencies normally are, and what you’ve chosen to abandon, if that was the task. Or tell what the task was. I really want to know. The dancers Kate Holden and Sarah Doucet were game, and great.
I agree with your description of St-Pierre’s work. There are some moments of real tension — especially at the beginning while the blondes gallivant in the audience and the women left on stage have a crazy catfight — and others of real beauty, which you described, but I also wished for better editing, and better sound. I was not so bothered by the appropriation of images, but the Marley floor as a slip-and-slide, aside from being an old trick, is a strange way to end. Am I looking at a tsunami (Boucher asked us to do the wave right before the dancers poured water on themselves and went flipping upstage) or at Hurricane Katrina? Why poeticize such catastrophe at the end of a piece about relationships? Regardless, I admire how much St-Pierre rallies media and audiences around his work. As one of my colleagues said during the festival, modern dance needs a rock star.
Speaking of rock stars, Antonia Livingstone was joined by friend and colleague Heather Kravas from New York for their four part series “xxx…a situation for dancing”. I saw the second of four evenings, “Even Steven”. On the way to my seat, I pass beside the risers and, underneath, a group of young teenage boys dressed in black tights and white t-shirts, a ballet class uniform, are playing the video game Lara Croft Tomb Raider (I think). Livingston and Kravas, dressed the same, are there with them, watching the action. Beside the risers, a round man wearing a headlamp sits, cutting out delicate paper snowflakes. La Chapelle’s black box is changed to a proscenium arch and a closed black velvet curtain looms over the audience. When I finish reading the dramatic program “A dance 2 friends made when they couldn’t dance anymore and wouldn’t stop dancing”, a colleague sits beside me and says, “I hear they were walked upon by a Portuguese marching band last night.” This sentence unlocked such possibilities of excess that I was ready to see anything.
And I did. After a brief intro in which the performers huddle in front of the curtain and the snowflake man counts to 100, the curtains open to reveal a few ballet barres and mirrors along the walls, as well as a sound table, a fridge and a microwave at stage right. The upstage right exit is decorated with a red velvet curtain. The ballet class goes to stage, the boys sit on the floor against the wall and the friends check themselves briefly in the mirror before standing side by side before us. For the following fifty-five minutes, they lunge turned out, rocking forward then back, flipping upstage and rocking forward and back again. Repeating this step, they gradually cover most of the space, including the exits, and leave their perfect unison once only, a little past the halfway mark, only to find it again, though flipping now in opposite directions. The boys fall in and out of watching the dancers, watching the audience, napping and passing a little cross-stitch ring that they take turns threading. The whispering music is at one point punctuated by a voice-over. Eventually the lights fade out in the theatre, the only light coming from outside through a long narrow window upstage left. In this near darkness, the dancers come to stillness and linger for a while, then leave to be replaced by two of the teenagers.
The simplicity and unity of the movement was a little like Brice Leroux’s work for me. As with Leroux’s, this was a10pm show and I have less resistance late at night. Livingstone and Kravas were completely engaged, utterly together, very formal but not entirely serious. They made eye contact, I believe, with every single audience member. I was a witness to an important and fun moment for the both of them, and though I drifted in and out of attention, as the teenage boys on stage did, I was happy to sit there and watch and enjoy their dancing, imagining what the Portuguese marching band was like the previous night, and curious about the two following shows. It is rare, I think, in the festival format, to change the code of presentation, and with their series, Livingstone and Kravas cleverly did.
I am curious about your perspective as we both saw the same show. This was my second to last festival stop, but I have not a lot to say about Israel Galvàn, the nouveau flamenco dancer. My highlights are the day of discussions around dramaturgy and Livingstone and Kravas, “Even Steven”. Both sparked my imagination in unusual ways.
I leave you to wrap-up. This conversation has been lovely. Thank you,
I like the rock star analogy you make. I remember years ago when Édouard Lock was labelled in a similar fashion — and it was appropriate. His performances shifted people’s perceptions — at first, seeing his early shows in music venues and former garages gave audiences a thrill and took dance out of the traditional theatre setting. When he did return to the traditional opera house, he blasted away (perhaps) people’s pre-conceptions of what dance could be within the confines of those establishments. So it comes in waves, and we’ve seen this kind of media and audience connection before in our dance history. My only hesitation in the Cult of Dave (St-Pierre) is that perhaps he will get lost in the flurry (and fury) of all this activity. It’s something for him and his handlers to think about. Or maybe I’m just being over-protective.
Of course, he’s just one of a generation of rabble-rousers that deserves attention. I’d like to see more space for the likes of Katie Ward and Frédérick Gravel. Other names will surely surface after I send you this email …
Onto Tonja Livingstone and Heather Kravas … I loved your description. Spot on. Their ballet boy look was priceless, and the distractedness of the adolescents and the one man-boy in the bunch was very amusing. When their bodies started slumping and dozing, I couldn’t help but laugh, because that was exactly how I was beginning to feel. But Livingstone, in particular, is such a riveting performer, that I watched and pondered the possibilities of what they were doing, instead of watching the insides of my eyelids. I much enjoyed their partnership, how they listened to one another, minutely transforming the nature of the evolving repetitive movement. I also loved how the technician for the show was sporting a fancy cocktail dress. For that 10pm time period, I enjoyed the simplicity, but I did wonder what people are looking for in Livingstone’s work (I can’t comment on Kravas, and don’t know her career path at all). Are they drawn to the astounding performer or are they watching her choreographic development?
As to an overall comment on the festival, the numbers indicated high attendance, something in the range of 88%. That’s good news, and something to build on. I won’t pronounce my thoughts about the theatre programming, but it would be good to see the dance component evolve. Madame Falcon needs to get out and connect with dance, both across the Canada and internationally, way beyond what we saw on her radar in this edition. It’s all about doing your research, and she needs to do just that exercise of putting feelers out and seeing much more material. Who knows if she’ll bring an associate on board to serve as dance consultant. Maybe that would be the solution (though that didn’t work this time out, with Lynda Gaudreau leaving earlier in the season).
The festival umbrella of dance and theatre could prove potent in the future. Right now, based on this single edition, the dance portion was overwhelmed/overshadowed. The public connection to dance is on shaky ground. With the old festival (FIND), the program was filled with dance, and movement ideas alone. Right now, the shared ticket at the FTA requires more inventive programming possibilities for people to really step up and take notice. My guesstimate is that it will take another festival or two for the dance component to find its legs.
So, Marie Claire, chapeau to you for your insights and lively banter. Let’s do this again!
À la prochaine.
Tagged: Contemporary, Festival, Performance, West African, Montréal , QC