Postcard from Montréal: Festival TransAmériques, May 22June 5
French or English; foie gras with poutine or bagels light as pretzels; Indian, Haitian or Chinese; Conservative Party, Green Party, even Marijuana Party; in Montréal, they really do vivre la difference. But the freestyle mélange of language, race and cultures so evident on city streets wasn’t on view in the few dance offerings I saw at this year’s Festival TransAmériques (FTA), a 15-day annual event presenting 22 works of new dance and theater.
FTA’s name spoke more to its origins, as the melding of two well-known former events—the Festival de Théâtre des Amériques and the Festival International de Nouvelle Danse—rather than to any real attempt to bridge the Americas. Artistic director Marie-Hélène Falcon curated a program dominated by Europeans and Canadians, with work by major figures like Meg Stuart and Marie Chouinard placed alongside lesser-knowns like former Bausch dramaturge and writer Raimund Hoghe and up-and-comers such as Montreal’s Martin Bélanger.
At times, production values outplayed ideas. Apparently Virginia Woolf inspired Chambre Blanche, a dance by Michèle Noiret of Brussels, but the choreography called to mind The X-Files, all ominous music and flashing lights. Four women chase inner demons around a single desk, in a series of solos, duets, trios and quartets made from theatrical details—reaching, pointing, crawling, smiling—and rehashed contemporary phrases. Still, a moment near the end was well worth the wait, as dancers sat naked with their backs to the audience and simply contorted their shoulder blades and back muscles in a fantastic, even spooky kind of way.
Most often, it was the extraordinary level of dancing that made me believe—think state funding. For instance, it was thrilling to see Turkish choreographer Aydin Teker for the first time in North America. Her aKabi is a curious work for four dancers, dressed in black, moving on black platform shoes of various heights: part hooves, part hobbles, amphibian-like appendages from an unknown time. They balance, they stumble; they walk on toes, they rock on heels. Overdetermined, even gimmicky. Yet 30 minutes into the piece, I was utterly convinced by the commitment of these performers and their disciplined, affectless approach to the movement as task rather than metaphor.
As a rule, I’d travel anywhere to see Quebecois homegirl Marie Chouinard. Though her choreography can be uneven and her bad girl image can wear thin, Chouinard’s company has produced some of the most exciting interpreters in the form, among them Benoît Lachambre, José Navas, Dominique Porte and Lucie Mongrain. Mongrain held the center of this year’s playful Orphée et Eurydice, a riff on the Greek myth that took as its central gestural motif the act of fucking. It’s been said that sex is the oldest act; the dance veered between hilarity and tedium. Still, her movement aesthetic—what she has described as “cell-based”—involves the expansion of motion to the entire skeletal frame. No one works the spine, articulates the extremities, as she does, and these postures remain charged, mysterious and provocative.
The best of the fest came early, with Is You Me from Montréal natives Benoît Lachambre and Louise Lecavalier in collaboration with visual artist Laurent Goldring. By the end of this 75-minute duet, I was on my feet screaming for more. In part, the excitement sprang from choreography built on surprising turns in scale and imagery—as when the track-suit wearing dancers join together, unbeknownst to us, at least initially, to make one elongated form; or else when they stretch their hoodies up into the air with one flexed hand to add two feet to their statures as they move in bent, staccato fashion. But equally compelling is the depth of their research into the unnamed gestural minutiae of everyday life: the shrug, the shriek, the snooze, the shudder.
Set on a white stage with a raked slope, the dance seamlessly incorporates Goldring’s line drawings—made live, in dialogue with the action on stage and projected digitally over the playing area—to make tangible dance’s kinship with geometry and architecture. Here, representation mimics live action, and the dancers mirror and mark the tension between themselves—now approaching, now withdrawing; now responding to, now hiding from. Finally, Is You Me offers a parallel portrait of creativity and the encounter between self and other —dancemaking as a metaphor for the process of becoming?—as the last great adventure in an overdrawn world.