In many ways Lucie Grégoire’s new work, Territoires, is like an elusive secret. In interviews she notes that this piece is drawn from previous works and new material — a revisiting of her creative bank of work. But sadly, there is no indication in the program notes of any specific work or any reference to a previous period of engagement. This distinct lack of tangible connection is regrettable as Grégoire has such a significant repertoire and yet not been able to identify these fragments — really fragments from a life of dancemaking.
Grégoire underwent early training at Le Groupe Nouvelle Aire in the seventies and then five years in New York studying with Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and Douglas Dunn. But she was indelibly marked by her time in Japan, in 1985, when she trained with Min Tanaka, Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata. The next year she founded her company, Lucie Grégoire Danse, and has since created solos, group works and site-specific creations.
One important period for Grégoire was the creation of three dance pieces during a ten-year collaboration with Japanese choreographer and dancer Yoshito Ohno. Her choreographic lineage has also included time with Elizabeth Albahaca, who worked with Jerzy Grotowski and also collaborated with Groupe de la Veillée in Montréal and with whom Grégoire furthered her interest in shamanism. The potential for transformation inhabits her oeuvre and is clear in this new evening of combined work.
Her early choreography and performance were rooted in simplicity and revelation. It’s not necessarily fair to be compared to other artists, but it is easier to do so when the dancer-choreographer herself makes these claims. What she learned from early training with butoh master Kazuo Ohno brought to mind his statement “Dancing starts in the physical movements of everyday life.” Notions of metamorphosis and the potential for transformation were an inherent crucible animating his work. Likewise, what Grégoire gleaned, and what’s permeated her creative output over the last thirty-five years, was to be present in what Ohno would refer to as a state of openness, allowing for the transformation.
As a choreographer, she draws inspiration from the physical landscape, whether the Arctic’s desolate beauty in Vers le haut pays, the harsh asphalt jungle of New York for Les choses dernières (which was freely inspired by Paul Auster’s novel In the Country of Last Things) or her journeys in the Mediterrean landscape, which helped to create La douceur du ciel. Throughout her repertoire, Grégoire breathes life into these works with her deep comprehension of female experience.
In past best works, Grégoire manifests a profound connection with the movement, visceral immediacy and a distinct hypnotic quality. While the Territoires collage doesn’t quite coalesce, her sense of composition, space, texture and rhythm frequently catch. In the hands of her skilful dancers, Kim Henry, Isabelle Poirier and James Viveiros, the invisible becomes visible and the humility and truthfulness of their pursuit become clear.
In the first moments, while still in darkness, a loud tapping fills the space. A few in the audience gasp, and the young guy next to me, part of a student group in attendance, jolts, letting out a loud “Whaat!?” But I’d wager nothing prepared him for the next seconds ahead: Grégoire, stands before us, her gaze fixed, seemingly possessed, a long stick in her hand, tapping powerfully into the ground, as if searching inexplicably for an energy source. In her harsh presence — cheeks sunken, eyes mad and searching — each exertion is a desperate confrontation. The result is unnerving.
The evening progresses with a series of blackouts, one sequence leading to another, each linked to a different phase in her choreographic life. The students around me lose concentration; there is plenty of squirming. The lighting (attributed to Marc Parent in the press material but curiously uncredited in the program) in the various sections is notable, particularly in a scene with a sublime sun-kissed ochre palette near the beginning, where Poirier and Henry dance a light and gentle dance, with rhythmic arms and pliant legs. The amplitude of their movement, as if pushed by the wind, and their kinetic flow, fills the space. Their bodily presence feels deliciously rendered from within; these women radiate unadorned fullness.
Other sections were more incongruous, more opaque. At one point, a chorus of two enters and exits, while a hunched-over Grégoire, in a long black trench coat, negotiates the space. Clearer was the intention of some other movement: in one section, Poirier strides forward, commanding attention, while Henry appears more subdued, together evoking a sense of marching spirits. Later, Viveiros whips his arms forward, propeller-like, with a strong angularity and erect torso, while Grégoire, in a vastly different and absurd incarnation, with a cascading grey wig covering her face, her body bent, sinks into every step, as she moves forward on the stage.
While there has been plenty of hoopla surrounding other dance artists in the field, Grégoire has steadfastly kept working over the last three decades in spite of being overshadowed. Her personal note in the program, which she terms “an artistic declaration,” reveals a gnawing bitterness. She states, with candour, “The permanent financial adversity I’ve faced as a choreographer hasn’t affected my creative flame. … The wear and tear due to the incessant fight for the recognition of my artistic practice is greatly felt.”
These are defiant words and, sympathies aside, it’s a disheartening gripe about a condescending profession that’s increasingly cued to the flavour of the month. Michel de Montaigne, in “Of Repentance,” describes existence as “constant” movement. It’s ironic that the passing of time, incoherent and cruel as much as it is joyful and untethered, rails against fixity. One wishes Grégoire greater indulgence in that unmoored expansiveness.
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