French dance runs hot and cold

Festival Montpellier - A salute to its 39th edition

July 16, 2019 21:28
3 minute read.
French dance runs hot and cold

‘THE SIX Brandenburg Concertos’ choreographed by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.. (photo credit: ANNE VAN AERSCHOT)

Arriving in Montpellier in the South of France, unprepared for a phenomenal heat wave (44°), changes one’s perspective. Not all of the dance festival’s venues are air-conditioned, and some performances took place outdoors.  Fortunately, the diversified program was promising. It included a line of luminary choreographers and some independent, fringe works.

One work in particular which raised the highest anticipation, was created by William Forsythe. The French premier of A Quiet Evening of Dance aired after a long time since Forsythe choreographed the dance for stage. He was a beacon, a revolutionary dance thinker who was probably the most influential creator since the early ‘80s, a decade after Pina Bausch. His Katana sharp and polished pointed contemporary balletic creations of his earlier years evolved now to intimate dances performed by a group of trusted old friends. Watching a line of his smallest ensembles perform his ultra-complex set of movements had a surprising impact.

 In contrast to the effortless finesse of Forsythe, there were two successful choreographers of high-magnitude musical challenges: The Six Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, choreographed by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, and Franz Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey), interpreted by Angelin Preljocaj.

Keersmaeker had cooperated with musical director Amandine Beyer, and joined forces of her company “Rosas,” with B’Rock Orchestra, where Beyer played the solo violin. To reach greater symbiosis between the two groups, the orchestra stood facing the stage, turning their backs to the audience, and kept eye contact with the dancers. In preparation, both analyzed the music in depth, and often assigned each instrument to a particular dancer’s role. Keersmaeker aspired to avoid the trap of keeping glued to the music’s precision, which is the simplistic approach, and managed brilliantly to negotiate between close ties with it, and liberal interpretation.  

Preljocaj, after using a varied selection of musical scores in the past, chose to work with romantic era’s score for the first time. Schubert’s Winterreise contains 24 lieder (German songs) for piano and tenor. It is intimate, deeply somber music about betrayal and lost love. Yet Preljocaj, taking poetic liberty, immersed between the scenes some lighter moods, and turned it into a journey of a life where optimism alleviates the hard journey. The dance performed by a strong full cast enjoyed moments of exceptional beauty enhanced by talented lighting designer Eric Soyer.

Besides those works by most notable choreographers, there was a number of smaller ensembles deserving attention with highly original creativity, among them Boris Scharmatz with Infinity performed by six athletic dancers who roamed a makeshift stage dotted with police-like flasher lights and recited mostly numbers. It was full of highly imaginative compositions, far more interesting than expected and despite its nonsensical ambience, it easily won me over.

Next in line was Solomon Eszter’s homage an almost forgotten Jewish dancer born in Berlin in 1892, who got her fame as a brazen cabaret artist, funky actress and wrecker of conventions. She was banned from the stage in 1933, fled to England, USA and back to Germany after World War II. Eszter, a rather daring performer in her own right, with a record of social sensitivities, depicted some of Valesca’s free spirit, yet maintained elegance, that Valesca probably lacked.

Somewhat disappointing was the evening by Stephen Petronio. He must have savored the chance to insert his own work next to some leading post-modernists whose contributions are carved in dance history chronicles, like innovators Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton. Though the dancers did fair work, the evening could look better if it stayed as a true homage to the pioneers.

June 22-July 6

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