festivals of discovery

erin brannigan: montpellier danse and julidans 2011

Raimund Hoghe

Raimund Hoghe

Raimund Hoghe


montpellier danse

The encounter with Hoghe was a journey of discovery never afforded in typical major city programming. In fact all featured artists appeared to be handled with a kind of care by the festival that was apparent and infectious; Hoghe in particular seems to attract deep and committed support.

Hoghe’s six casual afternoon shows were meant to both reprise his oeuvre and connect with the state of the festival. He presented some of his favourite things (Astaire and Rogers in Cheek to Cheek, a video of Gret Palucca shown around on an iPad, his favourite female singers from Piaf to French diva Dalida), sequences from his own past works, his collaborators’ works and short performances. His repetitive, durational pieces (walking while measuring his body with his hands, simple joint flexions and extensions) seem like a gift and are well suited to this ‘sharing’ format.

Hoghe’s history as dramaturg for Pina Bausch perhaps sets an expectation regarding expression that he seriously subverts. He presents himself, movement patterns (most often based on walking), objects and music in a kind of neutral co-existence that exceeds Bausch’s ‘showing-not-telling.’ It is the figure and character of Raimund Hoghe that anchors this highly formalist work, where humanity seeps from the body.

The focus on Israel was illuminating, even interrupted as it was by a political protest mounted on the lighting grid above one of the main stages on the opening night of the Batsheva Dance Company’s work. In a festival curated around alternatives to ‘contemporary dance’ (the sub-title of the festival was “Opening Out”), Project 5 was an anomaly. Between Ohad Naharin and Barak Marshall (ex-Batsheva), a genuine alternative movement language (seen here during the company’s residency at Sydney Festival 2007), is apparent; unconnected to ballet or release-based techniques it appears as a back-to-basics reinvention. Repetition, but also accumulation, marks the work with the first section of four structured around accumulating text and accompanying movement phrases: “Ignore concepts and ideas, ignore Beethoven, the Spider and the Damnation of Faust…don’t smoke too much, drink enough to relax…wipe your ass.” Each time it’s back to the first line and back to starting poses, vaguely balletic in form but gestural and soft. Naharin’s inventiveness is startling. Zipping changes of direction and height and impossibly deep second pliés and lunges are complicated with intricate and eccentric gestures of arms and hands; curling into the body like handles, cupped beside the face, sideways shrugs as if responding to shooting pain. The movement is full-bodied, vigorous and exciting; in unison, the impact is complete. Naharin repeated the entire program of four works in the second half with a male cast. The pieces created for the women suffered a little in comparison but the final piece, Black Milk, made more sense.

Barak Marshall’s Rooster is like a stage musical that you’d actually want to see, with great music, dancing, characters and story. Based on the life of a quiet man who lives and dies without remark, the work takes the figure of the rooster as a strutting opposition to the lead character’s tendency to fall asleep at key moments. So dancers regularly strut about the stage with feather fans for tails. The costume design is 1930s-40s with a score shifting from Jewish folk themes to American jazz and swing, making for a kind of historic-fantastic scenario not seen elsewhere in the festival. Scenes of weddings, murder, jealousy and deception are played out in dance, monologues (sometimes in English, sometimes in Hebrew) and through an opera aria. The whole is punctuated by joyous, full-bodied and rhythmic choreography that has some affinity with Naharin’s expansive style, but here is characterised by staccato accents from splayed hands and wide arms and gestural patterns that recall Bausch but are fired with a youthful energy.

Dance in France was represented by Didier Theron, Bartabas (with Ko Murobushi), Laurent Pichaud (with Deborah Hay) and Menard and Laurier who are discoveries of long-term festival curator Jean-Paul Montanari, and appeared to inspire a ‘circus’ theme within the festival. This representation of the French scene indicated the kind of diversity that real funding commitment for dance can produce over time. In Pichaud and Hay’s Indivisibilités Hay seems the leader; the notes on the work state that she was performing material from a new solo while Pichaud responded to her larger body of work. The performers broke up the proscenium space in Montpellier by inviting the audience to move between stage and seating and by stringing flags, curtains and theatre lights across the divide. Hay further challenged the space by focusing on the small groups of people sitting on stage, moving amongst them, touching and watching them watch her. Pichaud, meanwhile, negotiated cumbersome objects such as a fire hydrant and a large theatre light.

Bartabas’ Le Centaure et L’Animal is a dark and archaic piece that featured some of the most enticing choreography in the festival from Murobushi, but also the four horses in the cast: Horizonte, Soutine, Pollock and Le Tintoret. Inspired by the epic poem Les Chants de Maldoror (1868-69) by Comte de Lautréamont, a satanic and gothic mood was matched by a deep and grinding score. The piece begins with Murobushi coming to life on all fours, part animal and part man, naked, silver and Golem-like, traversing the stage with gnarled, detailed convulsions. A scrim drops dramatically and the figure of a dark horse and rider haunts the back of the stage between gold curtains. Bartabas and his mount zig-zag forward as if covering territory. When the horse’s head appears still, downstage and sideways from the wings, the effect is surreal. The appearance of the horses occurs as replayed sequences separated by blackouts. Morobushi confronts a white horse and its rider. The horse slowly falls sideways as if in slow-motion from the weight of muscle and the rider collapses too, head falling back in a swoon. Blackout and repeat. These cycles were juxtaposed with sustained images—fine dust falling onto writhing figures, a horse licking his rider clean.

Israel Galvàn

Israel Galvàn

Israel Galvàn

The focus on movement per se, independent of other disciplines, was strong across the festival with mostly plain, black box designs and music, alone of the art forms, making a regular and important appearance, particularly in the work of Hoghe, Marshall, Israel Galván and the various Boleros (Naharin, Theron, Hoghe) and Rites of Spring (Menard, David Wampach and Meryl Tankard).

Galván was a revelation—I felt like an audience member in Paris in 1909 at the Ballets Russes, seeing a genre completely transformed for the first time. The documentary Bailaores (D Albertina Pisano, 2004) includes a younger Galván in a group of artists re-inventing flamenco in Spain, exploring contemporary forms, moves and aesthetics. As seen in Sydney recently (see page 14), Galván is now in peak form and his revolution is in every step. His improvisations in Le Edad De Oro keep him in a state of constant change with extreme juxtapositions from intricate and fast footwork to angular poses, extreme arches with his pelvis thrust forward, mad surprises like percussive slaps on the soles of his shoes, his bare belly or teeth, rhythmic bourrées in his flamenco boots, reaching around his head to pull his face back, or using his hand to suggest a rooster’s comb or a falling leaf. This is passion through form, meticulous and original. The sex and bravado of flamenco are subverted through references to the cockerel, but also ‘feminine’ provocations such as pulling his shirt tails up to reveal waist and arse and performing dandyesque port de bras.

Shanghai Bolero

Shanghai Bolero

Shanghai Bolero

The recurrence of Ravel’s Bolero itself seemed a template for a ubiquitous compositional trend toward repetition and duration as a means of creating drama. Reading Doris Humphrey’s choreographic treatise while at the festival provided a striking historical counterpoint. Humphrey’s insistence on an ideal composition built of variation and balance in the service of ideas is replaced here with a foregrounding of form and self-aware strategies supported by clean, clear and charged movement languages. A visitor to Australia through a connection with Strut Dance’s director Agnes Michelet in Perth, Theron’s take on the score in Shanghai Boléro is beautifully articulated in his program notes; “approaching the mechanics of desire from a technical point of view.” Three sections present three different performances to the complete score on a bare, black stage. The first ‘take’ involves a cast of a dozen or so female dancers dressed in black shorts, long-sleeved tops and stilettos. Walking in grid patterns in perfect time to the music, the catwalk aesthetic is first broken by two of the women holding hands. This develops with couples and trios grabbing and embracing each other in endlessly different ways, changing partners, groups as well as pulling their tops up over their heads, or onto their heads, to reveal black bras. The work follows Ravel’s build, never dropping the swinging walk, with more complicated clusters of women and a final merging of all of them, joining to lift one dancer and disappearing in a second on the last notes. This is desire formalised as partnering and separating, encountering and disconnecting.

The second take features three male dancers in black jeans who begin a bouncing rhythm from side to side and forward and back that continues throughout the score. This bouncing energy contrasts with the drawn out swagger of the women, the male dancers lacking the poise and proficiency of the women, looking more physically and technically pedestrian. In the third take, the cast come together in various states of dress/undress in a series of tableux held for a consistent number of bars, rotated to show every angle, then mixed up until the dancers run into dynamic frozen compositions. The quality of the poses ranges from baroque and sublime to flat and disconnected, but the drama of the compositions is complete and thrilling. Another dancer is raised into the air and then, once again, the dancers are gone with the final notes.

julidans, amsterdam

Curatorially the Julidans program lacked the through-lines and recurrences of Montpellier, and ‘star’ acts such as Ultima Vez, Maguy Marin and Sidi Larbi Cherkauoi (whose piece was replaced with a solo work by Gregory Maqoma due to the absence of a dancer) collectively represented a dance theatre tendency that seemed worlds away from the formalism in France.

One standout was a young American choreographer based in Brussels, Daniel Linehan. His work with two other dancers, Thibault Lac and Salka Ardal Rosengren, Zombie Aporia, sets up a series of tasks (eight dances) involving a transposition of information from one medium to another. In one, Pacman-like figures on a screen represent positions in the raked seating, and as they move on screen, the dancers move to the corresponding position. In another, the dancers mimic an improvised comic dance performed earlier by Thibault which is played back on a monitor, appearing like glitchy, uncoordinated marionettes (recalling for me Luke George’s work with A Chorus Line in Now Now Now at Dance Massive in 2011; RT102).

In another section, Rosengren scrolls text on a computer screen with her eyes shut as Linehan whispers the text in Lac’s ear, who pronounces it out loud with dramatic intonations set by Linehan. In yet another, Linehan’s vision as he dances is perfectly mimicked on a screen—we see what he would be seeing—except that the auditorium seats are empty (it has been pre-recorded). Interesting in themselves, the texts (both spoken and sung) add a whole other layer, and the ‘lyrics’ are handed out before the show encouraging a sing-a-long. Reflexivity about the potentialities of the body, the role of performance, self-critique and Continental philosophy bump together with an experimental energy and clarity that’s truly exciting.

Montpellier Danse, June 22-July 7, Montpellier, France; Julidans 2011, Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 1-10

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 10,12

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

11 October 2011