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Flash Review 1, 7-10: Provocations
Montpellier Danse 2000: Provocations, Onstage and "Ouf"

By Bettina Preuschoff
Copyright 2000 Bettina Preuschoff

MONTPELLIER, France -- For 20 years here, every summer has seen the Montpellier Dance Festival, founded by Dominique Bagouet, who died of AIDS in 1992. Over the years, the festival has gotten bigger and more important, and these days it's well known not just in Europe but beyond.

This year, the invited companies were Mathilde Monnier, Jan Fabre, Lucinda Childs, Wim Vandekeybus, Adriana Boriello, Salia Ni Seydo, Mariela Nestora, Monica Casadei, Aterballetto, Joao Fiadeiro, Bernardo Montet, Els Deceukeliers, Nacho Duato, Vera Mantero, The Floating Outfit Project, DJRO and TCHE TCHE, Frankfurt Ballet/William Forsythe, Heddy Maalem, Michele Pogliani, Robyn Orlin, Renee Copraij, and Clara Andermatt. Around the main program there were as well concerts, exhibitions and films shown. A huge spectacle was done during the festival.

On the one hand the festival presented the interesting possibility of discovering many different works by various artists; on the other there was as well the danger of a certain anonymity. During the festival there were many chances for me to talk to a lot of dancers here in town, to have discussions about the festival not only about the performances, but as well about the festival's spirit.

Montpellier Danse is NOT a festival for us dancers. There was nothing organized to meet the invited artists to have discussions (this happened only for press and organizers).... There were no workshops offered, etc. Nearly I would like to say that the Festival Montpellier Danse is quite elitist. "One" is just going to the performance and afterwards maybe with a few friends to a bar to talk a little bit about what they just saw. The tickets are mostly quite expensive and being a "poor" dancer it's often not possible to go to all the performances you would like to see. I got the chance by writing these articles for The Dance Insider -- after living here for years -- to see a lot (of performances) this year.

Montpellier has a very lively local dance scene; unfortunately, you didn't notice it by the festival program. A familiar atmosphere like, for example, that of the festival "Les Hivernales" at Avignon is missing here.

I am going to spot out some performances I saw:

July 4

The performances of the two companies DJRO and TCHE TCHE took place in the open in a little village near Montpellier, which gave the performances a certain atmosphere. It is hard for me to criticize their work, being aware of the difficult circumstances for modern dance in Africa (as well seeing that modern dance has only recently landed in Africa). But I think it would be wrong to use a different standard in criticizing them.

I was well impressed by the dancers' energy, presence and technical versatility and the dramatic moments, which nearly made me think of German tanztheatre traditions. But exactly there might be the problem. It seemed that both companies haven't found their own unique/modern identity; too many links to a past European aesthetic of dance were visible. The attempt not to show stereotypical "African dance = African percussion music" failed.

As well the choice of music by TCHE TCHE, for example Hugues le Bars (music composed originally for M. Bejart), and the group choreographies reminded me far too much of these days, in which every student of dance in Europe was working with this kind of music.

I wish for both companies that they will find their own original style, which should give them the ability to use and develop their capacities (which are definitely there).

Heddy Maalem
July 5
"Black Spring"

For me Heddy Maalem is at the moment one of the most interesting and innovative choreographers in France, who should get more possibilities to show his work more often abroad. Especially his new production would be very interesting at American dance festivals. Coming from aikido he developed his own body language, which means a work based on Aikido, improvisation and contact improvisation a la Heddy, but as well including elements of African dance.

One aspect of the project was to offer African-born French dancers the opportunity to meet their counterparts in Africa in order to try and build a bridge over the (troubled) waters between the two continents.

The basic issue was the question of identity.

The rehearsal for this piece took place in Senegal in the "Centre International de Danses Traditionelles et Contemporaines Africaines de Toubab Dialaw" (another very interesting production which got worked out there, Susanne Linke's "Le Coq est Mort," will be shown soon at Jacob's Pillow Festival.). The performance shown here in Montpellier took place in the "Cours d'Ursulines," a courtyard in between the lovely ancient buildings of the Centre Choregraphique de Montpellier.

Heddy Maalem perfectly associates the elements of two different cultures, reaching a new dimension of modernity in contemporary African dance. With great sensibility he let the dancers be themselves, using their enormous, various qualities and bringing it all together with his own body language.

In my opinion there were some weak parts during the piece, which didn't really bother me because of all the intense moments (as well seeing that this was the premiere and I am sure there will be certain parts changed again). The subjects like identity, roots/origin and war (as well the origin of violence between people and the tension between the two sexes) were shown in an impressive and sometimes provocative way. All together a work which didn't leave anybody indifferent -- which is excellent!

The audience was watching the piece "relaxed" for a certain while to destroy exactly this feeling of normality (predictability) by interrupting with some violent parts all of a sudden, to confuse and irritate the audience (playing with a European image or point of view about Africans, the idea of something exotic ("folk dances"), which then got deliberately destroyed).

The audience honored it by applauding and with standing ovations, while some people left during the performance or were watching it really reserved.

A very interesting and tensioned work --"a black message" -- which should be shown on an international tour!

Robyn Orlin
July 7
"Daddy, I've Seen This Piece Six Times Before and I still Don't Know why They're Hurting Each Other..."

This performance is about a disastrous rehearsal, where the five performers are waiting the arrival of the choreographer.... Performer Gerard Bester plays the role of a maniacal fascist.... Gems of artistry and pathos are tucked into this noisy, aggressive bombardment of clashing energies and racial stereotypes.... As Orlin says in the program notes:

"If someone were ask me: What do you make about this work? my answer would be: It's about things (and people and moments) and the spaces between them. 'Daddy' is an accumulation of ways of dealing with the politics of space. Its subtitle is: a piece for five performers and a stage. The piece was born out of a series of spatial problems that I gave myself and the performers to solve, and asks questions about power, identity, exposing the relationship between the performers, myself and the audience. But it is not only about a space inside a theatre; it's also about what's outside, in the streets of Johannesburg: feelings, tastes, smells -- Johannesburg, that not too many people want to acknowledge...its historical tensions and its present to move on from there."

Another highlight? ....Yes, indeed!

A work which excited by its clever suggestiveness. A stage built in the middle of the room which gave the impression that a boxing match was going to happen here. In three corners of the room were enormous paper curtains; a camera was installed just like a spotlight, which was filming the whole stage from above. This was projected directly to two screens hanging in between the paper curtains. The so arranged set was skillfully used without being dominated by all the technical equipment. The excellent play of the performers was always the center of attention.

After a well-done shadowplay the performers broke through this paper curtains -- one after the other -- into the center of the happening.

The audience was placed around the stage, sitting or standing (whatever was preferred) and was forced to react to the unexpected, as well often pushed to take part in the performance.

Spontaneous verbal remarks and sideblows from the fabulous acting performer Gerard Bester made me laugh more than once!

Robyn Orlin and this clever and consequential work definitely deserved the standing ovations the audience gave them in the end.

Festival "OUF"

Beside the official festival there was an "off" festival (ouf means "sigh" in English). The companies taking part at the OUF were: Yann Lheureux, Didier Theron, Fabgrettes Rascalou-Nam, Michele Murray, Reve de Mandarine, Le Connectif Dalla, La Camionetta, MC2, and O Bal.

As already mentioned in the beginning, the local dance scene has not really a place at the official festival. So this community tried with OUF to create a platform for themselves and their work. Various companies and institutions came together and realized an interesting program, which was done with a lot of creativity: showcases of the local companies with the aim of getting in contact with dance presenters, improvisation work which was shown in public places in the city, workshops for amateurs and professional dancers, and film showings.

More of that!

Editor's Notes

To see photographs of many of the performers mentioned above, visit the Montpellier web site, or its English version. Then select the "choose a choreographer" option.

Bettina Preushoff is a dancer based in Montpellier, France.


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