Tuesday, 24th August 2010

On the Road: Irish Summer Festivals

JUNE – JULY 2010

Three Irish festivals laudably included choreographers well worth the trip through the country this summer.  At Cork Midsummer Festival, Jérome Bêl’s 2001 work, The Show Must Go On, provoked, irritated and delighted (different) audience members.  Built on a simple conceit of illustrating up to 20 iconic songs from films (Hair and Titanic) and pop songs by artists from the Beatles to Edith Piaf from Roberta Flack to the Police, the 20 performers stand and watch the audience (I’ll Be Watching You), die (Killing Me Softly), go through a trap door in the stage (Yellow Submarine) or exit the stage as the audience is bathed in pink light (La Vie en Rose).  It’s obvious, but it’s also incredibly smart.  Once you catch on, you can relax and take note of what the different performers bring to each song.  Some members of the cast are highly trained ballet dancers, others are not dancers at all, yet each is a joy to watch.  By opening with 8 minutes of an empty stage (Tonight and Let the Sun Shine In), the piece is a bit of a tease in terms of breaking “the lights go down, now we must be silent and respectful” audience-performer relationship.  On opening night, the Cork audience took full advantage of this leeway: they went out to the bar for more drinks, sang along to Imagine and Sounds of Silence, and a number of them left the theatre.  In the post-performance discussion (which I moderated), Jérome spoke of different reactions in various locations, including the audience climbing onstage to join the cast in Paris.  He noted, however, that the Irish audience sang more than any other he’d yet experienced.

While in Cork, I stopped in to the Lewis Glucksman Gallery to see Mel Mercier’s sound installation, From the Sources.   Commemorating the Fleischmann centenary, the John Cage-inspired take on traditional music is on until 24 October.  Don’t miss it if you’re in Cork!

The Clonmel Junction Festival commissioned and premiered a new work by Iseli-Chiodi entitled MYS2 (Me Seeing You Too), an extension of the themes in >Me Seeing You<. that was presented as part of Re-Presenting Ireland at DDF 2010.  Set up in a large open space, with hanging white fabric on which a forest was projected, the piece opened with Iseli dashing through, a kind of hide and seek with the audience.  After these fabric swaths were taken down, interviews with people of diverse backgrounds were projected on screens of various sizes and the audience was invited to come onstage to have various viewpoints on the videos and the dancers who inhabited different parts of the stage.  A pre-show work created with three young performers in a five-day workshop took place in the lobby which also serves as a café and arts centre.  This Festival has a real sense of community inclusion and involvement.

Israeli-born, British-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter brought his most recent work, Political Mother, to the Galway Arts Festival, which was a co-producer of the piece.  Shechter, who was trained in music as well as dance, composed the score for this piece which comprised four guitarists and four drummers on raised stages amidst smoky lighting.  Intricate shuddering movements by a cast of ten belied an underlying tension and implied aggression was interspersed with moments of tenderness.  Shechter has received significant attention and support in the U.K and it was great to see him in Ireland.  Winner of the Critic’s Circle National Dance Award for Best Choreography (modern) in 2008, his work has been touring widely in the U.K., Europe and Asia.

What a pleasure it was to see such excellent dance performances without getting on a plane!

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Friday, 6th August 2010

On the Road: Montpellier

JUNE 20-30, 2010

JULY 1, 2010

Montpellier Danse celebrated its 30th anniversary this year with an expanded three-week festival that featured many artists who had been a part of its history.  Most of these artists were presented on the festival’s many stages but others were represented by drawings (Trisha Brown), installations (William Forsythe), or via videos and a tribute (the late Dominique Bagouet).  Founding director Jean-Paul Montanari noted, in an interview in the festival brochure, that this edition marks the end of a ten-year cycle.  I’m curious to see what’s in store for the 31st edition!

The Festival opened with the revival of Merce Cunningham’s Roaratorio, a piece created in 1983 to John Cage’s score, Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegan’s Wake.  Unfortunately, summer had not quite arrived in Montpellier that first weekend of the Festival and two performances — in the newly re-opened outdoor theatre, the Agora — had to be cancelled due to rain and cold (it was a very atypical 16° at curtain time on the Sunday night).  Fortunately company Executive Director Trevor Carlson found me with 15’ to spare to get to an added 5pm performance.  It was really quite beautiful in daylight and the dancers looked sun-drenched and happy.  The performance was followed by a solemn scattering of Merce’s ashes in the courtyard of the Festival’s building (see photo – you’ll recognise the cours it if you saw Raimund Hoghe’s film Cartes Postales last fall; you may also recognise DDF’s 2009 intern, Jean-François).   Watch this space for more news on Roaratorio…………

Merce Cunnigham\'s ashes sprinkled at lagora montepellier danse 2010

A sidebar here on Agora, international city of dance.  The former convent of the Ursulines, built in the 17th century, is now shared by the National Choreographic Centre in Montpellier (artistic director, Mathilde Monnier) and Montpellier Danse.  The Choreographic Centre opened Studio Bagouet, a rehearsal and performance space, in 1997.  Final construction took place over the past year to refurbish the outdoor theatre and open two rehearsal studios, a meeting hall and, coming soon, artist housing in the Festival’s quarters.  This structure attests to the place that dance holds within the greater Montpellier region.

Kader Attou is one of the new Artistic Directors of another of France’s 19 National Choreographic Centres – he was selected for La Rochelle in 2008.  Along with Mourad Merzouki and Cie Käfig at the National Choreographic Centre in Créteil, Attou represents the new generation of choreographers who are working from a foundation of hip-hop and street dance.  (Merzouki and Attou were co-founders of the pioneering 1980s company Accrorap).  Attou’s new work, Symfonia piesni załosnych, to Gorecki’s eponymous score, mixes hip-hop with contemporary dance and incorporates a Bharata Natyam dancer whose vocabulary is echoed by the other women in the cast. Performed in a high school gymnasium with the audience at the two ends of the space, the piece was complex and moving.

A few days after the Cunningham Company had departed (and with the evening about 10° warmer), Akram Khan performed Gnosis at l’Agora.  The programme included beautiful Kathak solos created by himself and his mentor as well as a new duet with the astonishing Japanese dancer (and taiko drummer) Yoshie Sunahata.  In addition to the Japanese percussion, the Indian tabla and sarod, a western cello added to the unusual but harmonious instrumentation.

Rosas danst Rosas, the 1985 work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the piece after which she named her company, rocked my world when I saw it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1986.  The company has revived it and it is every bit as powerful in its reincarnation.  The cast in Montpellier included De Keersmaeker with three young dancers.  She is such an incredible presence – she managed to leave an upstage formation, walk to an audience member in the front row to stop him from taking photos, and return to the upstage line, re-commencing the dance with nary a missed beat. The score by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch is relentless; their group’s name, Maximalist, was a kind of irreverent poke at all the minimalism of the time.

Raimund Hoghe’s new work, Si je meurs laissez le balcon ouvert (When I die, leave the balcony open) was initially commissioned by Montpellier Danse as an homage to Bagouet but the piece grew in scope and ultimately reflects Hoghe’s personal history with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 90s (as well as that of our own).  DDF audiences will not be surprised to hear that the piece runs 3 ½ hours; but, for those who can relax into its pacing, it was definitely not too long.  Hoghe is joined by seven commanding dancers (including Lorenzo de Brabandere and Emmanuel Eggermont who were with him in Dublin) and an actor.  The work is imbued with loss, even sentimentality, yet there are some very funny vignettes in the mix and it is never maudlin.

Two young choreographers who have recently attracted significant attention were given the opportunity to show three of their works.  Cecilia Bengolea, originally from Argentina, and François Chaignaud push the edges of decorum in their works (for example, Paquerette is called a project for four performers – two artists and two dildos) but they have clearly done their homework.  Each dance reflects the integrity of their research into dance history as well as their 21st century take on it.

Other artists/companies I was able to see included Alain Buffard, Régine Chopinot, Germana Civera, Mathilde Monnier, Jiři Kylián/Nerderlands Dans Theater, Ohad Naharin/Batsheva Dance Company, Anne-Marie Porras & Salia Sanou, Fabrice Ramalingom, and Didier Théron but you have to buy me a glass of wine if you want to hear about everything!

In my 2009 report, I vowed to stay longer in 2010 – and I did!  Thanks to, I was able to find a great apartment in the centre of Montpellier. Special thanks to Annie Sassi for exchanging apartments with me…. now that’s a kind of sponsorship that really stretches the travel budget!

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En route back to Dublin, I stopped in Paris to see the new work by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (whose Apocrifu was seen at the Abbey as part of DDF 2009) and Damien Jalet with visual design by Antony Gormley.  Entitled Babel (words), the piece continues Cherkaoui’s investigation into the power of words, extending that to the power of language (e.g., the dominance of English).  With text in the 13 cast members’ languages, the work is cacophonous, but not chaotic. On the 1st of July, the thermometer hit 35° in Paris; that first chilly night in Montpellier seemed long ago and far away.

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