Dance Review: Montpellier Dance Festival

Needless to say that the daily protests on and off stage, as well as the frequent interruptions, clouded the festive mood in Montpellier.

EMANUEL GAT’S ‘Romantic Beach.’  (photo credit: Courtesy)
EMANUEL GAT’S ‘Romantic Beach.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Politics and economic issues joined forces against the arts in France recently, with stage technicians and seasonal festival employees in that country going on strike, thwarting many performances including those by several Israeli choreographers, whose plans to perform at the Montpellier Dance Festival were disrupted.
One of Sharon Eyal’s performances did take place, but only because demonstrators arrived late and couldn’t invade the stage as they had the day before.
Emanuel Gat managed only one full show out of three; not as bad as his colleague Angelin Preljocaj, who only managed one out of a scheduled five.
The national strike broke when the technicians and temporary festival workers found out that the government intended to cut their unemployment insurance privileges.
Needless to say that the daily protests on and off stage, as well as the frequent interruptions, clouded the festive mood in Montpellier, caused serious economic losses and affected summer’s culture tourism, a major industry in France.
Fortunately, I arrived in time to catch several shows, including three highlights of this edition: the premier of Gat’s Romantic Beach, arranged specifically for the inner courtyard of the medieval monastery that now houses the dance center Agora. His international group of 10 dancers managed to swarm in and out of complex formation with exceptional poetic flow and without losing their firefly speed and lightness.
One of the dance world’s luminaries, the Belgian Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a master of cultural collaborations, hooked up with Chinese stage and film star Yabin Wang to create Genesis.
Both artists (who each performed in Israel, separately, not long ago) are famous for their superb performance skills as well as for their creative imaginations.
The handpicked multinational cadre of performers tried to tackle the individual’s spiritual journey between birth and death.
British choreographers Wayne McGregor went beyond philosophical issues and spiritual poetry, going straight to direct discussions with neuroscientists.
At a press meeting he explained in detail the process he and his dancers went through with the scientists, and what insights are now available to artists working with measurable emotion sensors.
He managed to portray on stage in Atomos some of his notions via technological means, such as abstract visuals on 3D screens. As for the dance, we witnessed a beautiful company with strong dancers challenged by intricate motions. Yet the gap between verbal and non-verbal communication was clearly evident.
On similar note, two more companies deserve mention.
Wrestling, says Senegalese choreographer Salia Sanou, is a ritualistic cultural act in Africa, like Capoeira in Brazil. A group of bodybuilders trying to act enraged for performance’s sake, however, somehow wasn’t enough, though one could appreciate the attempt. The artistic failure that stood out, though, was Nou by Mattheiu Hocquemiller, dealing with body politics by performing varied sexual activities on stage aided by light sticks as artistic props. The French audience, remained, as usual, stoically tolerant and patient. Slim chance this “body politic” expose will play here.