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Review Journal, 10-17: Waiting for the Dance
FIND 2003: Dance at the Edge of Nothing
By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2003 Kelly Hargraves
MONTREAL -- The Festival
International de Nouvelle Danse (FIND) has been bringing two weeks
of non-stop top-level companies to town for close to two decades.
Past fests have been programmed around a specific country. It was
at FIND that I discovered Japanese Butoh, European Tanztheatre and
American Post-Modernism, each in one fell swoop in different years.
For its 11th edition
FIND didn't focus on a country but rather on the concept of "laboratory,"
experimentation and creative process. Beyond a few main stage performances
by long-standing favorites like Ballett Frankfurt, Batsheva, Meg
Stuart's Damaged Goods and Montreal diva Marie Chouinard, this year's
fest presented a number of companies and choreographers known for
their sense of the studio versus the stage. FIND even created a
space called Lucky Bastard where every night 20 or so artists would
come together with a set of instructions given to them only an hour
before show time and see what they could come up with in the space.
In four days I was able
to see five live performances and four video versions of festival
performances. It was enough to leave me with a general sense of
a casual, unsculpted, and un-self-conscious aesthetic. Even calling
it improv is too structural.
In each piece, performers
were costumed only in street clothes -- that is if they were dressed
at all, as nude bodies prevailed.
Movement was not highly
choreographed. Yes, there were dance phrases but there was also
a lot of sitting -- on chairs, on the floor, in the audience. Many
of the performances left me waiting for the dance as choreographers
researched what movement could communicate. A number of pieces involved
a verbal explanation of the process by the performers. Texts were
personal -- with dancers and choreographers explaining who they
are, why they're here, why a piece is the way it is. In fact, it
was clear that most preferred talking to us to dancing for us.
No one demonstrated
this more than the Portuguese choreographer Joao Fiadiero's company
RE.AL and its piece "Existencia." Faideiro believes in demystifying
the artist by creating "Composition in Real Time," a piece made
each night with no script or structure, instead offering the audience
"an alternative way of being," as the program notes put it. In a
written interview, he compares his process with going to the supermarket
just intending to buy a few groceries yet perhaps running into a
long-lost friend instead and taking a new direction to your day.
It's definitely good theory, an evolution of Dada, Beckett, and
Judson Church. What it means is that a performer shouldn't start
an "improv" unless something activates them to move. But what it
looks like is a bunch of young, uninteresting performers sitting
around doing nothing.
The piece begins with
the eight performers walking on stage, dressed as if they just got
off the subway, and taking turns walking to a mic to state their
name, their age, where they are from and some tidbit about their
day or their past. Then they sit in a row of chairs and wait. And
wait. And wait. Until someone feels ready to begin something. What?
No one is quite certain. My evening begins with one man's redundant
story about his mother, while two dancers stare at one another until
they both fall off their chairs and onto each other, then proceed
to drag each other around in a tug of war eventually joined by two
others. Meanwhile, a woman moves her chair closer and closer to
the audience until she is sitting with them, beside a young man
who she begins to interview. A large role of butcher-block paper
eventually adds a short-lived design aspect to the piece. As all
of this random activity happens Fiadeiro moves around adjusting
lights and microphones so that we can focus on one or more of these
events. Each activity is mildly engaging, depending on the skill
of the performer. Luckily the company includes two young women willing
to be performative and create something out of nothing, but most
of the others seemed happy to let nothing be nothing.
I flashed back to every
painful college improv class where nothing happened. But isn't a
ticket to a performance (at $30 a pop) a contract of some sort?
Shouldn't it go beyond what students would do in a classroom? Doesn't
a "stage" imply something more than process?
But what one experiences
one night with RE.AL is different from the next. For instance, on
the opening night, the audience started booing so much that Fiadeiro
ended the performance, but on the second night, the audience took
things into its own hands, joining the "performers" on stage and
literally making them dance, taking partners for a social dance,
a contact improv and an impromptu ballet technique lesson -- only
in a town like Montreal would the majority of the audience have
more training than the people on stage. The stage performers seemed
quite charmed by this, and happily danced with them.
Luckily, during the
performance I could read through the press kit -- house lights were
up -- and find out just what the choreographer was intending. I
couldn't help feeling like I'd rather talk to him than watch the
Even within a format
that questions whether movement is at all necessary, some choreographers
still found it possible, to still be structured and polished, as
British choreographer Jonathan Burrows exhibited in one of his two
collaborative duets at FIND. "Both Sitting Duet," previously reviewed here by Paul Ben-Itzak, was created
and performed with composer Matteo Fargion. A compositional exercise
for gestures, it was reminiscent of Thierry de May's "Table Percussion"
piece and Steve Reich's "Handclapping Music." Both men, dressed
in their jeans and shirts and sitting on chairs in a bare space,
use their hands and arms to create a silent musical composition
in odd-times that syncopates, echoes and resonates between the four
active limbs for over 45 minutes. The delicate precision of Burrows
and the more natural movement of the non-dancer Fargion makes the
seemingly simple movements and patterns mesmerizing and hypnotic.
ballet master Anthony Rizzi also added some polish to a seemingly
casual style in his piece "Snowman Melting." Seen on video, this
work combines video imagery of male strippers, classic Hollywood
film clips, Rizzi in a snowman costume, his mom reading and chatting
with him onstage and his articulate and luscious phrases of movement
and words. In a piece that deconstructs the notion of romantic love,
Rizzi uses a witty and personal monologue to introduce himself (and
his mom) to the audience with stories of his past drug addiction,
romantic illusions and the process of making the piece, including
a very funny story about trying to buy rights from Pina Bausch to
use natural elements on stage. It is a wise and witty work that
combines Rizzi's high style dance and his low style personality.
By comparison, the two
Montreal companies I saw, generally considered great dance experimenters,
within this context seemed almost purist because they still use
standard choreographic forms. Hard to believe that the cinematic
western "Back Track" by Tammy Forsythe and TusketDance, replete
with political and social activism, could seem pure.
What sets Forsythe apart
from her Canadian counterparts is her raw street aesthetic drawn
from sports movement, break-dancing and skateboarding, and her counter-culture
politics. Forsythe is a multi-media artist who combines her own
paintings, videos and text to create a movement style that is dynamic,
climactic and chaotic. Yet even in the whacked-out world of dancers
screaming out their lines, stylized gun fights, and video clips
of headlines taken from the tumultuous past few years referencing
war and crime, there was still a sense of the casual as Forsythe
sat amongst the audience smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer and
not holding back on her enthusiasm for her dancers' efforts.
Montrealer Daniele Desnoyer
and her company Carre des Lombes, which spent six weeks in residence
at the Museum of Contemporary Art here played with sound and yet
only came up with a choreography of three dancers sitting on speakers
with mics attached to them to cause feedback. Desnoyer used three
of Montreal's finest dancers to play three different characters
-- one confused, one bitchy, one sweet and innocent -- dressed in
stylish dresses with a vintage air. Yet, it didn't add up to anything
beyond a white space and white noise with movement filling the spaces
in the noise.
When you compare such
"unplugged" performance styles to the 10th-anniversary performance
of Marie Chouinard's "Rite of Spring," accompanied by the Montreal
Symphony Orchestra performing the Stravinsky score, you get a sense
of what's changed in the past decade. Chouinard's dancers were exotic,
erotic, balletic and quite a spectacle. Although ten years ago they
would have seemed at the forefront of new dance, now they looked
stylized, polished and flamboyant in both movement and costuming
-- nude with black shorts and occasionally wearing animal horns.
It was almost embarrassing to see them trying so hard after all
the other performances of the weekend.
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