Searching for Dance: FIND-Lab Part 1 

By Philip Szporer
  • Crystal Pite in "Uncollected Work" / Photo by Agnes Noltenius 
  • RE-AL Companhia João Fiadeiro in "Existencia" / Photo by Jorge Gonçalves 

Festival international de nouvelle danse 

Festival international de nouvelle danse 

Montréal  September 30-October 12, 2003

From high culture venues to warehouse-styled art spaces on Montréal’s tenderloin, Festival international de nouvelle danse (also known as FIND-Lab) audiences had the opportunity to witness in real-time Gertrude Steins adage that “great art is irritation”. If dance leaves an imprint, it is primarily through an emotional response. If work challenges us to see each other and ourselves with clarity, that is a measure of greatness. If we experience the heady exhilaration of new perceptions achieved after analysis, all the better. When frustration sets in, there’s the rub. The FIND-Lab formula prompts questions about creative territory, political environments, collaboration, the organizational principles of dance and dance as a hybrid form.

Crystal Pite’s “Uncollected Work”, presented during the first days of the festival, is ambitious and satisfying dance making in which the choreographer is looking for a transparent dance language. The full-evening duet in two parts, “Field: Fiction” and “Farther Out”, features Pite and fellow Vancouverite Cori Caulfield. The spectacular dancers weave in and out of notions about writing and the creative process. In “Farther Out”, the central character is the manual typewriter, here suspended by wires and pulleys. The voice (on tape) of writer Annie Dillard, expressing ideas about the writer’s process and how one sets up narrative, is heard throughout. Clad in black and white reminiscent of the blank page and ink, the dancers play on the act of writing, the inner struggle, the process of the imagination, how one brings words to life on the page and how locked ideas are freed. Again, in “Farther Out”, as she showed last year in “Field: Fiction”, (premiered at the Canada Dance Festival 2002), Pite works with an audacious humour like almost no one else in Canadian dance. A Cronenbergian creature in tap shoes and spangled bodysuit springs from the space-helmeted head of another character to dance a soft-shoe routine. Later, Pite has two such creatures in full throttle entertainment mode, much to the hilarity of the audience. Giving folks a little fun is something that has become almost extinct amid all the dire destructiveness that enshrouds most dances on our stages. Well thought through, Pite’s unfolding idea revolves around a concept that is open-ended – and this is especially rewarding for those who like to watch dance that has more to do with asking questions than with getting answers.

Tammy Forsythe’s singular non-stop-action Western, The Backtrack (voted third place for the Public’s Choice prize, after winner Lia Rodrigues of Brazil and runner-up Ballet Frankfurt/William Forsythe), uses space to great effect. A former synagogue, now a Portuguese community centre, is not the most obvious venue for a Western showdown, but Forsythe’s game eye capitalized on the potential of the place. Upper balconies, pillars and a raised stage were all at her service. Even the ceilings functioned as screens for projected video material (although from my vantage point very little of that material could be seen). Her characters are the speaking, singing and dancing variety – and that one choice alone shows the force of her desire to work against tradition. Forsythe marshals forward with stubborn independence, creating in a naïve form (like her visual art which adorns the walls of the hall), but never naïvely. The choreographer understands some of the powerful impact of western films by the likes of Sam Peckinpah, who could create a disturbing mood to fuel a picture’s underlying theme. Here, the movement is revved up; unison work is explored in large measure and the overall structure is elementary, divided into clear sections. Forsythe’s dense streak of protest is potent but her message about world politics gets lost. The names of the guilty ‘bad’ guys – a litany from Exxon to the Rothschilds – flow freely, like blood on the trail. The uncredited theatrical scenario, like the dance, is adventurous but ultimately remains obscure. 

Attending the Portuguese João Fiadeiro and his RE.AL company’s over-worked tedious experiment in in-the-moment creation called “Existencia”, clarified that sitting and watching “shows” in a black box theatre defeats the fundamental definition of laboratory. For Fiadeiro’s performance, the audience was decidedly grumpy. After numerous others had headed for the door, one frustrated man took the plunge. The fellow booed loudly on two occasions, bringing a visibly shaken Fiadeiro to the stage to ask the audience for their reactions, saying somewhat condescendingly, “I dont want to be aggressive with you.” That comment elicited this gem from another person in the crowd: “If I were you, I’d find another profession.” Another unhappy ticket buyer said, “If you sell it as dance, it should be dance.” One woman declared that the $25 she paid to see Fiadeiros show could have gone to buying groceries. He dug into his pocket and refunded her ticket.

People bantered their different views on the world of performance and dance, which fed directly into Fiadeiro’s overall plan. But all the discussion bodes the question, what are we are anticipating as dance these days? Perhaps, as artistic director Chantal Pontbriand has suggested, it should be called “expanded dance”. Are you in the camp that says labels have no meaning, or do you feel that dance performers should have technique? These are just two ideas expressed by others that evening, which perhaps reflect the great divide facing both dance artists and audiences hungry for the dancing body.

With Duo Pour Corps et Instruments, Danielle Desnoyers produced a completely serviceable piece probing sound ideas and the body (with sound designer Nancy Tobin). Sound and the body interface as the body reacts to and creates sound, with lots of static and white noise ensuring a level of frustration in the audience. Desnoyers has investigated material like this in the past, so it was very surprising that the extended research time at the Musée dart contemporain (a real gift) produced very little new insight.

Manon Oligny of Manon Fait de la Danse tests the limits of the body, taking her dancers to the point of exhaustion. In Incidence chorégraphique 46”00”05”, Projet 1, Road chorégraphique (the title refers to a chronometer reading), she rather ingeniously places the dancers in a glassed-in squash court at the Downtown YMCA. This first piece is part of a larger choreographic road trip, which will take her to Sao Paolo, Tokyo and Helsinki. With the audience seated in front of the court’s glass enclosure, we see two bodies in full throttle workout on screen, in close-up, in an eleven-minute video by Fréderic Moffet. Then the dancers, Boris Nahálka and Marta Cerqueira (both based in Portugal), enter the space in real time. They move in isolation for the majority of the piece in an allegory of miscommunication as these two solitary beings go through their paces. There is a sense of agitation in Oligny’s work: the inability to rest, a racing pulse (literally and figuratively) and little time for reflection. Confrontation and rupture are ever-present, as in earlier pieces that focussed on seduction, desire and obsession. The choreographer has a keen sense of the physical effort of the athlete’s body, but is studious in keeping emotional content at bay In both Desnoyers and Oligny’s work, the juice and the humanity are drained away and, to differing degrees, the objectification and manipulation of the female body is a point of concern. The fashionable, pretty women in copper-coloured high-heels presented by Desnoyers are effectively plugged-in by the male technicians, and seem to absorb the distortion triggered by the movements in their bodies to the extent that they remain relatively static and restricted in their movements. Desnoyers in recent years has struggled between a more formalist bent (which can provide for exhilarating dancing) and adopting a more trendy, conceptual veneer. Once more, the formalist aspect of her work is by far more expressive; however, its only at the very end of the piece that her three dancers (the talented Sophie Corriveau, AnneBruce Falconer and Sionèd Watkins) break out of their constricted positions and dance full out. For Oligny, the matter is equally complicated. Harshness is her badge of honor. Her supremely trained male and female dancer/gymnasts struggle in isolation, but then connect in a brief but excruciating sequence in which, through a series of wrestling clenches, the man smashes and crunches the woman into the floor. His gaze during this interaction is one of a distant psychopath. In Oligny’s world, sex and relationships are like a kick in the groin. There is nothing to cheer about here. The violence is merely laid bare; there is no sense of a thematic and emotional binding energy that would otherwise give this dance an enduring power. 

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