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Montpellier Dance Festival.

Montpellier Dance Festival

Various venues

Montpellier, France

June 19-July 4, 2009

Talk about an emotional roller coaster ride! A pall washed over this normally sunny town when dance aficionados learned of the deaths of Michael Jackson and Pina Bausch. Two names not generally found in the same sentence, their untimely passing nevertheless elicited profound reactions during the 29th edition of one of Europe's most adventurous festivals.

The best tribute, then, was to go on with the show(s). With 28 choreographers from 10 countries presenting 17 new works in 16 days to some 38,000 spectators, the festival's scope was mind-boggling. Founded in 1981 by dancer-choreographer Dominique Bagouet (he died of AIDS at age 41 in 1992), it's been directed by Jean-Paul Montanari since 1983.

Curiously, the solos and duets resonated most. At 52, Angelin Preljocaj danced onstage for the first time in 16 years in Un funarnbule (The Tightrope Walker). Based on Jean Genet's meditation on love, death, and being an artist, the premiere featured the elfin choreographer reciting the text while swooping about a set strewn with rolls of butcher paper. Tossing off a cartwheel one moment, balancing on a lighting grid the next, Preljocaj ended by showering himself with gold glitter, an apt metaphor.

Less a meditation than action painting, El final de este estado de cosas, Redux, is Israel Galvan's one-man Guernica. A 75-minute work in which the Spaniard deconstructs flamenco, the piece is a convention-smashing triumph. Donning falsies during one segment, Galvan ran his body through a cubistic wringer, reshaping it from centaur and steed to warrior and lover, all through astonishing footwork, balletic jumps, and dying-swan-like arms. The finale? Galvan standing upright in--gulp--a plain wooden coffin.

Also thrilling: Winter Variations, Emanuel Gat's latest work. A study in heterosexual male bonding, danced by the choreographer and Roy Assaf, the 50 minutes teem with perfect unisons, militaristic marching (on their knees, no less), and minuet-like stylings to taped music, including Strauss and the Beatles. Gat's lighting design--an exotic abyss--creates an intimate tableau on the vast stage of the 2,000-seat Opera Berlioz.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Raimund Hoghe's new concept piece, Sans-titre, proved less successful. Paired with young Congolese dancer-choreographer Faustin Linyekula, Hoghe, an erstwhile dramaturge for Bausch and a middle-aged cerebral German who happens to be humpbacked, is limited by his body. Hoghe primarily walks, bends, and lies on the floor, while Linyekula indulged in some ecstatic dance, all set to the emotionally manipulative music of Bach, Purcell, and gospel.

After Hoghe had plunked down squares of blank paper and removed his shirt, Linyekula placed stones on and around the hump of the prone Hoghe. Yes, the Teuton exudes a sense of dignity, but his work begs the question: Is it art (a la Diane Arbus); a voyeuristic spa treatment; or does the emperor need a robe?

Mathilde Monnier didn't need clothes but needed more dance in her hour-long City Maquette. Having premiered in Berlin last year with more than a hundred amateurs and Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic (playing music from Heiner Goebbels' opera Surrogate Cities), the Montpellier version took place in a church with 80 participants from four generations moving to taped music. Somewhat pedestrian, the piece obviously lost something in translation.

Spanish-born Andres Marin also failed to connect. His agonizing, two-and-a-half-hour El cielo de tu boca featured the flamenco dancer stamping, turning, and clapping to the live bell-janglings of composer/musician Llorenc Barber. Another Spaniard, Mercedes Ruiz, displayed more technique than duende in her one-note Mi ultimo secreto, which never really got off the ground, her aggressive shawl-twirling notwithstanding.

A different kind of aggression coursed through Rita Cioffi's premiere, Passengers. Grooving to the onstage sounds of rock group Rinocerose, Cioffi gyrated and flailed about. That her partner, Claude Bardouil, was a non-dancer gave the scattershot work a Spinal Tap feel, with wigs, strobe lights, and ampedup rock riffings creating sound but little fury, at least movement-wise.

The premiere Manta, choreographed by Hela Fattoumi and Eric Lamoureux (both from France, as is Cioffi), was danced by a hijab-clad Fattoumi. Promising to reveal what lay beneath the garment, Fattoumi instead did slow quarter turns, flaunting an occasional hand and finally resorting to cliche--singing James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World."

Stephen Petronio's premiere, Tragic/Love, a multimedia take on Romeo and Juliet, fared better. Making use of 30 dancers of Ballet de Lorraine and set to a musical collage, including Prokofiev, the evening-length work employed two actors reading letters written to the Juliette Foundation (a kind of Santa Claus clearing house for desperate lovers), while the hard-working dancers offered sensual duets and exquisite line formations.

The same troupe performed Bagouet's 1988 classic Les Petites Pieces de Berlin. Restaged by Sylvie Giron, the five quirky works were reminiscent of an earlier time, the whimsical backdrops enhancing an occasionally robust--and robotic--vocabulary.

Bruno Beltrao's H3 is a high-octane hip hop romp for nine men, stuffed with armless flips, backwards hops, and pinball machine-like maneuverings. Exploring the Machine Age more comically than this Brazilian group were Turkey's Filiz Sizanli and Mustafa Kaplan, whose premiere, Dokuman generated much-needed laughter. The Tunisian actor/comedian Nejib Ben Khalfallah failed to elicit yuks in his misconceived new solo, Falsou.

Closing the festival, which also offered free outdoor events and a critics' symposium, were performances by Portugal's Vera Mantero and the Mark Morris Dance Group. While two sections of Morris' Mozart Dances were tepidly received, his 1993 Grand Duo, set to the late Lou Harrison's funky modalities and hard-charging rhythms, drew wild applause.

Dance, like life, is fleeting. With mortality hovering over the festival, it was gratifying to be in this dance lovers' paradise, where emotions could be expressed in so many ways with the body.
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Author:Looseleaf, Victoria
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 1, 2009
Words:953
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