Montpellier Dance Festival examines AIDS in motion

The annual dance festival in Montpellier is one of the most important contemporary dance platforms in Europe with a reputation for promoting new choreographic concepts.

By ORA BRAFMAN
July 19, 2007 07:05
2 minute read.
MONTPELLIER DANCE  88 298

MONTPELLIER DANCE 88 29. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The annual dance festival in Montpellier is one of the most important contemporary dance platforms in Europe with a reputation for promoting new choreographic concepts. Its artistic director, Jean Paul Montanary, dedicated this year's festival, which took place from June 23 to July 7, to several aspects of dance influenced by AIDS. When the AIDS epidemic came to light, the dance community found itself dealing with the practical and emotional impact of losing a great number of dancers, choreographers and company directors. The deaths of high profile dance artists such as Rudolf Nureyev, Alvin Ailey, Arnie Zane, Jorge Dunn and prominent French choreographer Dominique Bagouet, increased the misconception that the disease is a predominantly homosexual one. Years later, people began to understand that no one is immune. South African choreographer Robyn Orlin was faced with the growing epidemic while working with youths at the townships in her homeland. Together with a group of youths, she created her work We Must Eat Our Suckers With The Wrappers On. It received a standing ovation at this year's festival. Alain Buffard, one of the first French choreographers who tested positive and drew on his experience in his works, was also given the stage at this year's festival. Conceptual German artist Raimund Hoghe also presented his recent work Mienwarts. The minimalist work is based on his personal history as a latecomer to dance, who struggled with a deformed torso and a lack of formal dance training. He tells the story of opera singer Joseph Schmidt, who died in 1942 while escaping from the Nazis, and infuses his own challenges as a homosexual and performer into the piece. He ties together his country's dark history with the toll paid by Holocaust victims and those homosexuals who are afflicted by AIDS. In Israel, less than a dozen known dancers had died of AIDS when disease came on the scene. Names of the victims were not revealed publicly, apart from poet and dance critic Hezi Leskley. It was Ohad Naharin who first incorporated a list of AIDS dance victims - including Israeli dancers - as part of the sound track of his work Anaphase. He named the names, but never mentioned the name of the disease. There was consensus among most of the 14 speakers in Montpellier that AIDS permanently changed the dance scene. With the onset of the epidemic, strong and bold externalized dance began to give way to slower dances that searched inward, and perceived the body as the place where existential issues could be tackled. Many dance works, which were often dependent on the choreographer's memory, also began to be conserved in archives by all available means. This year's Montpellier Dance Festival is a testimony to that approach, reviving several works by the late Dominique Bagouet and presenting his full recorded legacy on video for public viewing.


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