In early May, Ottawa choreographer Anik Bouvrette’s Tara Luz Danse performed at the almost one-year-old Shenkman Arts Centre in the city’s east end. Presented by Mouvement d’implication francophone d’Orléans (MIFO), croisée…ÉPILOGUE included an excerpt from “Ludivine” (2003), two contributions by high school students who participated in workshops with Bouvrette, and a work-in-progress, “Ce souffle qui m’habite: les billes”. The connection between the pieces came from the choreographic use of common objects. In 1964, Lucinda Childs sat on stage and put sponges in her mouth (“Carnation”), thereby transforming household items into expressive objects of social and political significance. Bouvrette’s work, however, eschews any such specific statements and was described in the program notes and during the talkback session only in broad terms as being connected to imagination, child’s play, and dream-states.
The excerpt from the solo “Ludivine”, danced by Jacqueline Ethier, began with a chair, end table, and lamp stage left, with two tall vases on the floor filled with light bulbs. A woman (presumably Ludivine) enters, moving around the furniture as if she has just come home. The soundtrack by Josh Latour and Ted Hamilton is a musical cacophony of ambient noises, including a ticking clock – or is it a bomb about to go off? The woman seems self-contained, controlled, but with a nervousness and a tinge of sadness or loneliness about her. Movement intensifies, hands moving around her body as if to cinch a belt or hold something closed, while the arms fling out in wider and wider circles. As she dances, she holds light bulbs in her hands as if they are nothing at all; at other times, she looks at them intently and approaches them as objects of curiosity or desire. The costume, a halter-style dress by Carole Courtois, showed off Ethier’s expressive back and arms, and the lighting design by Paul Auclair supported the piece completely, working with the onstage lighting from the lamp while containing the set in dark shadows, giving us a sense of dramatic closeness.
Ethier’s strong and nuanced performance made me want to see the rest of the piece to know how the character who counts her memories in the lifespan of light bulbs might evolve. This solo exemplifies Bouvrette’s signature vocabulary as a choreographer: fast and fluid arm movement, a grounded body, and a seeming constant churn of movement. In “Ludivine”, this is offset by moments of character development and reflection, short breaths of time where we can see into the story that is being told. In one moment in particular, Ethier stands still and seems to look at the audience through the clouded orb of a used light bulb, and continues looking right through us. The two student pieces that followed were inspired by workshops with Bouvrette in 2008 and 2009. The first, a theatre piece, was a short excerpt from Ionesco’s “The Lesson” in which objects were used as symbolic props. Directed by David Dufour, students from the arts specialization program at Béatrice Déloges High School inventively integrated fist-sized glass marbles and bright red feather dusters with the absurdist text. The second piece, a structurally complex choreography for eight created by the dance students at De La Salle arts high school, guided by teacher Solange Paquette, used the same props. While it was a generous gesture on Bouvrette’s part to present the student work, her connection to them seemed tangential, as there was no evident transfer of her vocabulary, methods, or vision, other than the common use of objects.
The last piece of the evening was a chapter, “les billes” (“the marbles”), from Bouvrette’s newest work, “Ce souffle qui m’habite” (“The breath that lives in me”), which is still under development. Created over a month of rehearsals, including a week in residence at the Shenkman Arts Centre, “les billes”, according to the program, took its inspiration in part from the work with the objects that Bouvrette did with the students as well as from her experiences as a mother re-entering the world of children’s games and imagination.
“Les billes” incorporated large glass marbles, novelty light-up hula hoops, and LED balls into a set which included rice-paper lanterns of various sizes and silver sculptures that acted both as containers for the marbles and sources of light. The whole scene, particularly with the white lights, looked at times like an alien landscape, holding the potential for both fun and danger. Of all the objects selected by the set designer, artist/videographer Isabel Barsive, it was the marbles that were the most integral to the piece. Bouvrette’s dancers used the hoops in a variety of ways, most effectively to corral the marbles and bounce light through them on the floor, like an elegant and exotic game of billiards. The LED coloured balls passed around by the dancers at the end seemed not to belong at all, their strobe-like capacities upsetting what cohesion had been built in terms of the quality and interaction of light and objects.
What sustained the work was the performers — Johanna Dalgleish, Amelia Griffin, Julie Anne Ryan, and Catherine Therrien — who danced with commitment and grace. A solo by Dalgleish emphasized her great extension and clarity as a mover, while the stage around her was filled with dozens of marbles shooting past and rolling around on their unpredictable paths. Choreographically, however, this section might have been more interesting if the audience could have seen her respond or react to the situation, perhaps by moving into or away from the rolling marbles like they mattered, either physically or emotionally.
The partnering and solo work by Griffin demonstrated her ability to inject character into a role that, while inconsistent, was nevertheless intriguing. Therrien also gave a strong performance, with a sharp focus and energy that was well suited to the pacing and dynamics of the piece. Ryan, moving softly with her face close to a hanging rice-paper lantern as if dancing with the moon, or poised in a pool of fist-sized glass marbles, trying to balance as the balls shifted around her, had a range of expression and tone that showed us where this piece might eventually go. The lack of narrative development, repetitive codas, and missing transitions between sections left some beautiful images but no sense of how the four dancers were connected to each other or to the objects. In the post-show chat, Bouvrette described this as a deliberate effort to keep the piece dream-like and therefore incoherent, but it still seems that “les billes” has yet to go through some editing and refinement. It will be interesting to see what elements are finally chosen to complete the chapter within the longer work.
According to the program note, the company name, Tara Luz Danse, refers to the “light that dwells within woman” (“tara” is the feminine form of “terre” and “luz” is Portuguese for “light”), but the two Bouvrette pieces presented were unrelentingly intense, without pause or levity. However, the juxtaposition of “Ludivine” and “les billes” provided an illustration of the advantages of working a piece over a long period of time. Bouvrette seems comfortable with longer creation cycles and doesn’t throw pieces away in order to move on immediately to the next thing. There is a perceptible through-line in her work in its movement vocabulary and general themes. As an evening, though, the presentation of croisée…ÉPILOGUE felt like the middle of a story, rather than an ending.