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Flash Dispatch, 10-30: Le Grand Labo
Finding the New -- and Old -- at FIND
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2001 Josephine Leask
MONTREAL -- Le Grand Labo, which
was the title of Montreal's 10th International Festival de Nouvelle Danse, was
set up by festival directors as "an artistic and social laboratory, to reflect
on the notions of individuality and community in today's world" using dance and
performance. Its focus was on finding new ways in which dance could be expressed
and the body redefined using experimental music, environment, visual arts, film,
video and new technology. The participating companies and choreographers, predominantly
from Europe and Montreal, were chosen because they embodied the festival's spirit
of innovation either through exploring a variety of different media and environments,
or through a radical working of common dance forms such as the solo and improvisation.
The festival, held over three weeks ending earlier this month, also included discussions,
screenings and films, plus weekly club nights in which live performance, sound,
projections and a line up of hot DJs provided a background for nocturnal 'happenings.'
While many emerging artists presented
work at the festival, so too did the pioneers of the new dance in the '70s, such
as Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Marie Chouinard.
The Judson Church was also represented through the White Oak Project, in a new
version of Yvonne Rainer's "Continuous Project Altered Daily" (1970) and an homage
to John Cage.
The festival contained many good
ingredients: a rich, imaginative program, slick organization, friendly atmosphere
and enviable performance spaces, ranging from theatres to gallery spaces and studios.
Experimentation and research were at the core of this festival, although some
companies and individuals illustrated the laboratory theme better than others.
As with most festivals, there was some disappointing work that was either too
pretentious or didn't live up to the innovatory intentions. While some of the
varying levels of experimentation no doubt confused audience members, for example
the visual art non-dance work of La Ribot, this was no bad thing. On the other
hand, I felt there was an absence of new American choreographers and a distinct
preference for French companies, but perhaps this reflects more on the politics
of the Francophile Quebecois.
What emerged clearly from the festival
was the importance of presentation, which took precedence over dance content;
for example the setting up of the performing space and how the audience were positioned
in relation to the performers. As a result, some audience members felt that the
'dance' component was lacking overall. This feeling was confirmed by the reception
to the performances of London choreographer Russell Maliphant, who was voted favorite
choreographer because his work is all movement-based, well-crafted choreography.
Highlights for me during the festival
included Christine de Smedt (Belgium), Konditional Pluriel (Montreal), Jean-Pierre
Perreault (Montreal), La Ribot (London/Spain), and Ted Robinson (Canada). I enjoyed
the work of these artists because in their unpretentious styles they illustrated
clearly dancing bodies that are responding to the changes in the environment,
technology, lifestyle, popular culture, art and society in general.
Housed in his very own building,
Montreal choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault with "Les Ombres - Installation choregraphique"
set up a radically refreshing viewing position for the viewer. As in a peep show,
each member of the audience was shown into individual booths, which faced onto
the generously proportioned performance space. From this exclusive position, you
were pretty much concealed, and could indulge in a highly intimate, personalized
relationship with the dancers, as they moved busily and urgently around their
space. While the movement material was less interesting than the setting, the
choreography really engaged with and challenged the space as well as the spectator.
Christine de Smedt, a member of the
Belgian Company Les Ballets C. de la B who worked with some 55 non-dancer performers,
created powerful crowd choreography. Using basic mathematical structures that
made pedestrian movements look impressive when performed by so many people, de
Smedt also managed to extract the individuality of each performer through the
work, by instructing them to respond spatially to a variety of sociological questions.
By identifying each with other performers according to sexual preference, social
status, musical taste, family, living conditions, appearances, politics, etc.,
each performer's presence was felt.
La Ribot installed her performance
space with a clutter of objects, all of which she used in the course of her show.
The audience was encouraged to view her work as a workshop, where she continuously
constructed and deconstructed the space or decorated and undressed her body. While
there was no dance material in this work, the meticulous placing, setting up and
dismantling of her props was very satisfying to watch. La Ribot presents her naked
body as a blank canvas, extending its boundaries to become another prop. Through
her confident presence and her concentrated arrangement of objects she avoids
objectification or gender stereotyping.
Kondition Pluriel, consisting of
multi-media artist Martin Kusch and choreographer Marie-Claude Poulin, explored
the influence of digital technologies on the body and space, in a process-led
laboratory situation. The company created a sophisticated multi-media intelligent
space which consisted of two dancers, four computers, a mixer, sound and sensors
which were attached to the dancers. Architecture of bodies and space was redefined
through movement, transmission of electronic image, the physical triggering of
sound, light and played back images. What is impressive about these new technology
artists, is that they have found a comfortable meeting point between the dancing
physical body and technology. The dancers were empowered working in the intelligent
space, and were not dominated in any way by the bank of machines, while the intricate
and analytical style of their movement mirrored the complex manipulations of the
artists at their computers. Together they created a series of disturbing and beautiful
images. While such work demands a strong level of concentration from the audience,
it really is about the revisioning of the body.
Ted Robinson's quirky theatrical
solo was inspired by the meanings of the word "rigamarole," and explored through
gesture, voice and dance. Robinson proved that the solo still provides potential
for exploration, and created a unique character that was a mixture of Tibetan
Monk and Charlie Chaplin. Performed late in the evening, the solo had the flavor
of a one-man Berlin cabaret wrapped in Buddhist spirituality.
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