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Montpellier Dance Festival.

Montpellier Dance Festival

Various Venues, Montpellier, France June 23-July 7, 2007

While the global village keeps getting smaller, thanks to Google, YouTube, and BlackBerry, the real world of dance, happily, is growing bigger. At least that's the way it seemed during the Montpellier Dance Festival. Founded in 1981 by dancer-choreographer Dominique Bagouet, who died of AIDS at age 41 in 1992, this annual celebration in the glorious south of France has been directed by Jean-Paul Montanari since 1983.

Dedicating this year's event to Bagouet, whose company was once home to, among others, Angelin Preljocaj, Montanari offered a daylong symposium focused on the impact of AIDS in the dance world. But it was the dance--26 choreographers (plus Bagouet), from nine countries presenting 25 premieres in 46 works--that drew some 30,000 spectators to 93 concerts, as well as public conversations, free video performances, and daily tango dancing, all making Montpellier a nirvana for dance aficionados.

Following performances choreographed by Christine Jouve and Alain Buffard (in small, black box venues), Ballet Preljocaj gave the festival opening-night oomph with a trio of works performed in the 2,000-seat Corum theater. (The troupe also presented Empty Moves (part I and II) at an outdoor amphitheater later in the festival.)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

No surprise that four stellar dancers delivered knockout performances in Annunciation and Centaurs, from 1995 and 1998 respectively, as did the entire 12-member troupe in the premiere, Eldorado. Set to a 2004 score by Karlheinz Stockhausen (even the German experimentalist has a MySpace page), this highly anticipated piece, unfortunately, ultimately disappointed.

Featuring Nicole Tran Ba Vang's 10 monolith-like panels adorned with neo-sunflower motifs, these Louis Quatorzetinged static backdrops also served as entrance and exit points for the dancers. Populating a mostly merry planet with hip-swiveling, leaping, and ferocious lunging, these hard-working performers received little help from Stockhausen's old-fangled score (chimes, kazoo-type sounds, etc.), and could not, alas, bring the work a much-needed New World sensibility.

But Mathilde Monnier did. In her premiere, Tempo 76, set to music of Gyorgy Ligeti (including bits from his metronome orchestra score), she made the familiar--choreographic unisons--a kaleidoscope of revelations. Abetted by Annie Tolleter's wonderful, sod-covered raked set, the nine dancers evoked constantly changing tableaux: from an Andrew Wyeth painting to warrior-like friezes, these scenes featured the performers maniacally laughing, executing calisthenics, and slinking stealthily through the grass, their fugal formations a joy to behold. The popping-balloon finale capped Monnier's singular vision with humor, bringing us more in touch with a world gone increasingly mad.

Humor was obviously intended in Pastora Galvan's homage to France in La Francesa, choreographed by her brother, Israel Galvan. Too bad it didn't pan out. As purveyors of flamenco, an artform not known for wit, the siblings are superb dancers. Indeed, Israel, often dubbed the Nijinsky of flamenco, performed his own solo, Arena, at the festival. But in this nearly two-hour work, with Pastora accompanied by eight ace musicians and undergoing more costume changes than Cher, substance would have been preferable to style.

The voluptuous Pastora, emerging in white skirt, red tube top, and blue sequined jacket that screamed Vegas, proceeded to do balletic kicks, one-legged hops, and turns aplenty, before making a second entrance in exercise gear and stilettos, bouncing to Bizet's Carmen. Shaking her ample booty and removing a shirt to reveal a tank top emblazoned with soccer star Zinedine's name and number, 10, she even mimed a faux head-butt. (Not your mother's flamenco!)

Sure, her foot-stamping rhythms and florid arm work were fabulous--when she deigned to do them--and the show was freakishly entertaining (saluting Edith Piaf one moment and morphing into a flamenco dominatrix the next). But, sadly, duende was nowhere to be found.

Soul was, however, on view in Alonzo King's LINES Ballet. Representing the United States (as did Trisha Brown, who performed early and newer works over a three-day period), King served up a satisfying three-part program. Following the Subtle Current Upstream (an Ailey commission from 2000), and last year's Migration: The Hierarchical Migration of Birds and Mammals, preceded King's Handel, from 2005, which ended the evening with guest artist Muriel Maffre wowing in a solo.

Maffre, who retired from San Francisco Ballet last spring and guested with LINES in the mid '90s, still retains the elegant line, willowy arms, and dramatic presence of a world-class ballerina. From the tilt of her head to the exquisite articulation of her feet, she opened the work as if channeling the Baroque composer. Seeming to be from another era, Maffre looks equally comfortable when carried on high by a quartet of four men, as seen here.

Brett Conway's partnering of Aesha Ash and Laurel Keen in separate duets was also noteworthy in the nine-part suite, while Axel Morgenthaler's evocative lighting added to the evening's triumph, leaving the sold-out Corum audience wanting more.

And with plenty more on tap--including Bagouet-choreographed solos danced brilliantly by Gregory Beaumont and Christian Bourigault, as well as Grand Theatre Ballet of Geneva performing a pair of the late artist's works--Montpellier was the place to be last summer.

Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf
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Author:Looseleaf, Victoria
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:844
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