Mayday in the market

Canadian choreographer Mélanie Demers presents ‘Animal Triste’ as part of the ‘From Jaffa to Agripas’ Festival in Jerusalem.

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
August 28, 2019 13:09
4 minute read.
Mayday in the market

Canadian choreographer Mélanie Demers presents ‘Animal Triste’ as part of the ‘From Jaffa to Agripas’ Festival in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MÉLANIE DEMERS)

The experience of giving birth hits each woman in a different way. For some, it is empowering. For others, traumatic. Some women would jump at the chance to be pregnant and give birth over and again, while others struggle through each moment. Regardless of the enjoyment level, the journey of having a child puts a woman into a different mental and emotional state. Shortly after giving birth to her child, Canadian choreographer Mélanie Demers read Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

“Those two things collided,” she said over the phone. This collision propelled Demers into a creative process that brought Animal Triste to life, which will be presented next month as part of the From Jaffa to Agripas Festival in Jerusalem.
Demers, 45, was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. Her mother hails from Quebec and her father from Haiti. She studied dance, theater and literature, elements that comprise the foundations of her choreographic work. In 2007, Demers founded her own company called MAYDAY.

When we spoke, Demers was in Bassano del Grappa to participate in a project spearheaded by dance curator and artistic director of the BMotion Festival Roberto Casarotto. “It’s a durational performance called Museum of Human Emotion,” she said. “Roberto invited five performers to use a room in a medieval tower. People walk in and out. It’s a premiere for me, I’ve never done a durational performance and I’m not used to being on stage anymore.” In fact, two years ago, due to an injury, Demers was forced to switch one of her four performers in Animal Triste at the same Italian festival.

“I learned a lot from performing in my piece about how far we have to push the body to get to integrity,” she explained.

DEMERS PINPOINTS the extreme physical exhaustion she experienced as a new mother as the factor that set the tone for Animal Triste. “Having a child puts everything in perspective. For this piece, I was not sleeping at all. Sometimes I look at the piece and I’m like, ‘What is that? What state was I in?’ There is a suspension of judgment when you’re exhausted, a get into a type of survival mode.

“I was very fascinated by the way Sapiens was written, how it captures millions of years in a few pages. I thought I’d like to do the same in a dance piece. I started to work and thought it was a pretty ambitious idea. With the dancers that I had chosen, we started to investigate and managed to break down the vastness of this project to four stages of evolution.” The stages they identified, which can be seen as phases in the work, are biological, civilization, emotions and relationships and spiritual.
The four dancers move through the space, at times topless, at times dressed in a smattering of vintage items and long, doubled-up pearl necklaces. The costumes, while every day, play a major role in the work as they are donned and sloughed off with ease.

“Creation works in such mysterious ways, it’s a series of accidents,” laughed Demers. “We were working on the piece and we had to shoot promotion pictures but we had just started the work. I asked the dancers to bring things from their homes and there was a pearl necklace in one of the suitcases. I said it would be so beautiful if they all had jewelry but the pearl necklace became a ritual. Now I see that it conveys what is primal in us and what is royal in us. The primal tribes started to wear things to differ from animals but it is also something that rich people are trying to adorn to put themselves in a different caste. I thought that this simple object had a lot to say about how we want to differ ourselves from the rest of the crew.”

Animal Triste marks a major progression for Demers in her work. “I used to be more theatrical and more politically militant but, with this work, I wanted to allow myself to embrace all the complexity of humanity without judging it. I tried to let go of commenting on what I’m doing. I tried to be very sincere and honest, really observing the complexity of who we are , who we were and who we might become. There is a bit of theatricality but I didn’t push that part of the work. I usually would start with addressing the audience, I would talk directly to them… with this work there’s something more internal and less frontal.”

Demers’s invitation to present work for the first time in Israel came from Elad Schechter, founder and director of c.a.t.a.m.o.n. Dance Group, host of From Jaffa to Agripas. Her visit is part of Interstices – The Montreal-Jerusalem Choreographic Exchange Program, funded by the Jerusalem municipality, the Culture and Sport Ministry and Montreal performance center Tangente.

This year’s From Jaffa to Agripas program focuses on the connection between culinary experiences and dance performance in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. Other events include a chef’s dinner and performance by Efrat Rubin, as well as a duet by choreographers Rand Ziad Taha and Hala Salem alongside traditional dishes prepared by Rachmo Restaurant.

Unfortunately, Demers won’t be able to accompany her dancers on this tour. “I’ve never been to Israel,” she said. “This is one of the first times that the company tours without me and it’s so hard for me.” Demers assures, however, that she will make it to Israel in the near future for more exciting engagements.

Animal Triste will be performed on September 4 at the Alliance House. For more information, visit www.catamon.com.


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