Lucie Carmen Grégoire is finding her voice. This fresh choreographer, who is establishing herself within the ranks of Montreal’s dance community, recently presented the local premiere of her latest work, “Ôs”. The title is taken from the ancient Greek, meaning “in the manner of”; it also evokes the French for “bone”, and in terms of sound, recalls “us” in English. (Talk about covering your bases!) A quartet of musical, rhythmically-inclined dancers – Elissar Hanna, Élise Legrand, Andrew Turner and Grégoire – create the musical score, singing both live and recorded on tape.
Originally from Québec’s Mauricie region, she received an enviable reputation for her performances in Toronto after she completed her dance training at York University. “The Globe and Mail” has tracked her progress, and cites Grégoire as one of “the choreographers who never disappoint”. She subsequently settled in her home province, building her career in Montréal. Earlier works centred on social behaviours and human connections. In “You said woman? Tome I – Tome II”, for instance, she developed dances around the notions of hyper-sexualization and the appropriation of related imagery/symbols. Her own production company, Krea Movo (Esperanto for “creative movement”, or “creative move”), was launched this past fall.
In “Ôs”, wooden sticks evenly placed on the ground demarcate the performance space, and dried reeds strewn about the surface mark its confines. Boots are similarly left abandoned in a carefree manner. This defined space is an invitation into a textural landscape, and viewed at a close proximity, the perspective feels familiar, tactile. In the centre of the performing area, four dancers are face down, piled one upon the other. The potential for audience interactivity with the dancers seems ripe, yet they are, nonetheless, at a safe remove. The experience of tangible connection is a vital part of what makes Grégoire’s piece matter.
The Sunday matinee I attended was relatively crowded, with the audience seated in bleachers around the continuous boundary on three sides. A row of small chairs around the front allowed latecomers to tuck themselves into these places.
Grégoire has an active mind that entertains music, sound and movement in a generous manner. The musical component in “Ôs” is central to the piece, and the focussed and creative performers vocalize not with lyrics but by singing abstract spontaneous sounds. Their voices articulate melodies with grounded riffs and rhythmic drones. They adopt vocal syncopation and the sounds accumulate. The breath generates the musicality, and in one instance when two bodies were close to one another, gently swaying, the sound recalled, ever fleetingly, throat singers from the North. This aural potpourri is presented in an offhand kind of way, but musically it’s carefully calibrated amiably and playfully, with the dancers clapping, snapping, clicking and stamping, using various parts of their humming bodies. There’s an idiosyncratic sense of urgency as they navigate intensity and their own rhythmic logic, all the while operating in a confined space.
A terrific section arises as the dancers don boots, their stamping resulting in a virtual drum machine; another highlight occurs when one dancer plays another’s arm like a harmonica. Often three performers will envelop the remaining dancer, prompting spontaneous sounds through the touch of a hand on one body part or another, or the kissing of bare skin. A transformative moment surfaces when the audience is encouraged to clap along to the singing from the ‘stage’. Suddenly the line between serious art and cabaret begins to melt. Later, when things quiet down, the dancers inhabit their own quadrants, aided and abetted by Stéphane Ménigot’s lighting design. Here, they become their own arsenal of musical expression, negotiating sounds and their “instruments”. “Ôs” has its own unique whimsy; it was a lively and happy tonic for a dreary winter’s afternoon.