This is one of three reviews of Festival Quartiers Danses, which animates Montréal annually with performances and events in theatres and public spaces and took place this year from September 5 to 15, 2018.
The recent premiere of Chutes: Descendre du ciel (Falls: Descend from heaven) showcased a work that is uninhibited and tender — a confrontation of our physical and mental fall at the end of life. It was presented on a double bill alongside Hymne, by Dominique Duszynski (Belgium) and Nao Momitani (Japan). Chutes, choreographed by Alix Dufresne and Marc Béland, features a fifteen-minute solo performed by Béland.
To begin, a row of evenly spaced fluorescent lights, like those lining hospital halls, suddenly light up the back wall of the stage. Béland stands to the side, his profile softly backlit in the cold light. Immediately, I feel removed from the regular rhythms of life. The sound composition, by Béland and Andrée Hétu, is an unvarnished recording of Béland’s visit with an elderly woman, perhaps his mother, in a nursing home.
In this portrait of aging, there is nothing to hide. Béland makes his way across the stage unhurried and then turns towards the audience; his pace and walk are uncomplicated. His fingers tremble as he slowly lifts his hands towards his chest. His eyes bulge and his hands tighten into fists, revealing a wave of something — perhaps fear, pain or their anticipation — which passes gradually through his body, persistent and unstoppable. The piece lasts only fifteen minutes, but there is no urgency to Béland’s transformations.
As Béland embodies different forms of physical degeneration, the sound composition remains constant, contrasting the anticipation and tension in his body. His bright “Bonjour” to passersby occasionally punctuates calm observations and questions exchanged with the woman in the recording, whose stumbling words are often unintelligible. In the strange quiver of old age, it seems that the exterior world is flying by too fast for the individual’s interior life. At one point, Béland folds forward, reaches his hands for the floor and barely finds the ground. Such fragile connections create a visceral reminder of the loneliness that can confront people at the end of their lives.
When the old woman asks Béland how he is, he mentions a little tendonitis in his elbow. I briefly register that, as a versatile and powerful performer, he is not in the same situation as her. Nonetheless, it is hard to see him struggle. At one point, he slowly reaches and quakes to sit up from lying down, and I’m not sure he will make it. But inevitably, he does. It was only a matter of time. Dufresne and Béland’s sense of timing stretches the passing minutes and holds both the audience and Béland captive for what is to come. When he stands with effort and tries to walk, stumbling repeatedly across a short stretch of stage in the fading light, we are reminded once again that it’s only a matter of time before each movement becomes a fall.