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During its three-week early summer dance festival, the city of Montpellier just may be the most magical place in the universe. With its soft, sometimes windy Mediterranean climate, days that stretch far into the night, and performances that stretch imaginations and receptiveness, this capital of the south of France is a dance lover's paradise. Cafes are perpetually full, and even performances that start at 10 P.M. draw full houses and leave audiences chatting animatedly way past midnight. Nobody in Montpellier seems to sleep during these weeks.

The twentieth annual festival directed its attention to new voices rising in Southern Europe: Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. And in Africa: South Africa, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Senegal/Nigeria.

Tammorra, by Southern Italy's Adrianna Borriello, petered out in a nondescriptive circle dance, but did feature an intriguing mix of postmodern detachment with movement derived from manual labor and Catholic rituals; it was set to contemporary percussion and Giovanni Coffarelli's haunting, Arab-inflected singing.

Taagala, le voyageur by Burkina Faso's Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro, who also dance in Mathilde Monnier's company, is packed in communal travel imagery--in a boat, stuffed into a womb-like enclosure--with highly individualized sitting, sliding floor movements. Though still somewhat selfconscious, these artists clearly are on the way to creating a tradition-inspired but thoroughly contemporary language of their own.

Monnier, director of Montpellier Centre Choreographique National, organized a weeklong Potlatch derives, inspired by the custom of noncommercial receiving and accepting of the Chinook peoples of the Northwest coast of North America. Some three dozen artists gave and received from each other, exchanging widely divergent live and video performances, installations and discussions. These were free and always jammed. Among them was A prendre ou a laisser by Annie Tolleter, Anna Ziaman and Karim Zeriahen, a white sitting room where one was invited to listen to disembodied conversations; Christian Rizzo and Cathy Olive's hanging of two polyester dresses barely visible down a ninety-foot-long hallway, their windblown swaying carrying echoes of the garments' owners; Jerome Bel's la place du spectateur, during which an audience analyzed its perceptions and assumptions about movement seen; and Brenda Edwards and Eszter Salamon's Ou sont les femmes, in which the two artists--who didn't know each other--tried to find a common ground through dance.

Despite this attention to a new generation of dancemakers, the masters--Sankai Juku, Lucinda Childs and William Forsythe, and to a lesser extent Nacho Duato and Bernard Montet--were not neglected. They showed the solid foundation beneath the work of their younger colleagues.

Honored guest artist, with a world premiere, three solo performances and two exhibitions of his most intriguing visual work, was Jan Fabre, the Flemish all-around man of the theater, who was a major inspiration for Belgian new dance, including Wim Vandekeybus--who performed Fabre's Prometheus-inspired theater monologue Body, little body on the wall.

Fabre's commissioned As long as the world needs a warrior's soul proved to be a Rabelaisan romp into the grotesque in which people screamed at the top of their voices while painting fake wounds on themselves, and a doll gave birth to a slithering, wailing baby. Fabre uses an intensely visceral form of dance theater to question assumptions about being and becoming--both in art and life. Starting with Adam and Eve figures caught in a Kafka-esque interrogation, As long built into an accusatory cry against the perceived robotization of life. Fabre is a man of total theater; improv-based dance is but one element. Here he gave his fake blood- and excrement-covered performers dozen and dozens of contrasting lifeless "perfect" Barbie dolls. Though rich in detail, As long quickly lost the initial momentum of its clashing dialectic. Ultimately, I felt that this warrior was beating his head against walls that have long become permeable.

William Forsythe brought two major pieces, cousins to each other, to Montpellier. Luciano Berio's Duetti Pour Deux Violons, Vol. 1 propelled the wondrous workwithinwork, a series of quicksilvery, multifocused duets in which pointe work and superextensions easily cohabited with spiraling torsos, head rolls, collapses into the floor. This was Forsythe at his most playful, even relaxed--some of it sang with an almost folkloric lilt. Its counterpart was the slippered One flat thing, reproduced for fourteen dancers and sixteen aluminum tables aligned in a square. The furniture served both as restriction and expansion of space: dancers flew over, under, alongside and on top of those hard edges, but they also moved with equal ease inside the constricted passageways. The mixture of chaos and order in these near-collisions--dropping limbs, pushes, shoves and overhead lifts--felt like marvelous chance encounters or electrons bouncing off each other. Also on the program were Duo and the conceptually intriguing 7 to 10 passages, in which the inexorable advance of dancers contrasted with the verbal selfquestioning of a panel of seated "critics."

France clearly appreciates Lucinda Childs. The only choreographer with two programs on this year's festival, a world premiere on the second evening, Description (of a description) and the elegant Dance, confirmed Childs's mastery as a dance maker/thinker. The program also included the 1993 Concerto for seven dancers, primarily of interest because of its tension of trying to create symmetry with an uneven number of performers.

The poorly received Description featured a geometric black and white design (by Hans Peter Kuhn) in which Childs stepped into a brilliantly lit white square hanging in a sea of black. As the piece progressed, the whiteness gradually took over, leaving Childs's black-clad figure suspended in blinding light. Susan Sontag's text--about a minor accident disrupting the tranquillity of an ordinary morning--and a discrete soundtrack of city noises fused with precise gestures, perfectly placed: a one-armed port de bras opened space; a soft fall left, an angled leg suspended. This is an intense poetic piece about a mind in motion, about a mind contemplating itself.

Dance also tested its audience's patience, not only because of its one-hour length but also because of the technical snafus that impinged on the projection of Sol LeWitt's accompanying film. It was curious to see how Dance has changed since 1979 when the film's concordance of projected versus live dancers made one type of statement. Here the split images, paralleling, fore- and backgrounding of the original dancers with the current ensemble, acted more as a commentary on the passage of time. Childs's present dancers seemed to give a more rounded quality, more of a bounce to her overlapping two-skips-and-a-turn patterns than their earlier counterparts. For those patient enough, about two-thirds of the way through, this non-emotive, rigorously non-narrative work blossoms into an airy embodiment of dance itself. Additionally, to see Childs--still lithe, precise and contained--in the long and demanding second movement solo dance juxtaposed against her younger self was surely one of the festival's high points.
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Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Nov 1, 2000

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