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Flash Review 1, 7-10:
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:
DJRO and TCHE TCHE
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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 tensions...how
to move on from there."
Another highlight? ....Yes,
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.
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!
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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