Biennale de Lyons

September 10, 2002

Biennale de Lyon

Various venues
Lyon, France

September 10?29, 2002

Reviewed by Karyn Bauer Prévost

“What surprised me most,” said Guy Darmet, artistic director of the Biennale, about the 250 shows he saw during six months in Latin America, “wasn’t the variety or the originality, but the generosity and the tenderness that emerged from these performances.” Personal, political, and cultural themes were the heart of the tenth edition of the Biennale de la Danse de Lyon, themed “Terra Latina,” to which Darmet brought his final selection of thirty-one South and Central American companies, twenty-five of whom had never traveled to Europe, and seven local French companies, including Maguy Marin and Denis Plassard’s Compagnie Propos.

While the previous edition of the Biennale, “The Silk Routes,” was a flashback to once-blossoming Lyon silk industry, this year’s theme evoked the longstanding cultural exchanges that have existed between France and Latin America, as dancers from eleven different countries gathered in France’s second-largest city.

This “festival of desire,” as Darmet called it, was as diverse as the South American continent is vast. Tens of thousands of spectators crowded the city’s theaters and performance halls throughout the three-and-a-half-week festival, discovering how dance has made survival possible in a society ravaged by civil war, economic decline, and dictatorships. From Cuba to Colombia to Peru, theirs is a dance that puts aside political discourse, thriving on the celebration of life.

The violence of Caracas could be felt as a distant sonorous backdrop when the young Venezuelan company, Dramo Dramaturgia del Movimiento, performed their European premiere of Canción de los niños muertos (Song of the Dead Children). The seven dancers, under the direction of Leyson Ponce, brought their characters to life through a nostalgic reconstruction of the complicated struggles of youth.

Gun smoke filled the air with a dense, acrid stench as one by one, the dancers traveled through dark, dreamlike visions of youth. Cows mooed, harmonicas whistled, and guns fired in the distance as the dancers created a patchwork quilt of emotions ranging from euphoria to despair to sexual hunger. Their energetic and heartfelt performance, humorous and kitschy at times, alternated between sultry duos to giggly group dances. Highly theatrical, the characters suffered through mourning and loss, but rejoiced in the Venezuelan belief that dead newborns are resurrected as angels.

Spectators went to the moon and back with Mexican choreographer Raúl Parrao and the National Dance Company of Mexico. With the world premiere of El Viaje a la Luna (Trip to the Moon), Parrao paid homage to the French turn-of-the-century director Georges Méliès, whose legendary 1902 Le Voyage dans la lune, inspired by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, was the world’s first science fiction movie.

Spectators were invited to don 3-D glasses as the dancers reenacted the film’s enchanting trip to the moon and back. From the construction of the giant spacecraft in and around steaming factory machines to the discovery of oversized moon mushrooms and the mysteries of outer space, the dancers animated what scientists would discover more than fifty years later. The show closed with a celebratory can-can dance in the heart of Lyon, a throwback to the Folies-Bergère dancers in Méliès’s film.

A fiery energy also propelled the choreography of the Marcela Escobar Company from Chile. In this, their first excursion abroad, the company brought a fresh and vibrant piece for four dancers. The interchanging couples and chaotic rhythms took place within a somber and claustrophobic set where black walls and mirrors prevented any hope of departure. Their movements included falling, banging into walls, and break dancing, and had the same frantic, random energy of acrobatic skateboard stunts. Their hunger for dance transcended the movements that could be considered outdated, providing witness to their passion.

The Mexican contribution was vast, and included that of a former prostitute from the city of San Luis Potosi. Choreographer José Rivera lit up the Transbordeur nightclub with his work for Mexico’s only contemporary gay dance company, his group La Cebra. Inspired by the literature of Jean Genet and the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rivera’s work, considered scandalous in Mexico, brought raw sexuality to the stage but failed to shock European viewers, since homosexuality has an accepted place in society here.

Since its inception in 1988 in the small and fairly isolated city of Goyana, Quasar has become one of Brazil’s most widely traveled and popular contemporary dance companies. Its performance of Coreografia para Ouvir (Choreography for Listening), was one of the great discoveries of the festival. With the spoken voice as an essential element of the soundtrack, the company’s eight dancers articulated their bodies to the choppy rhythm of heavily accented Portuguese, their movements ricocheting back and forth to the intonations of various local accents. Slithering, shaking, or dropping to the floor, their gestures passed from quiet subtleties to astonishing gymnastic feats, heavily inspired by their mastery of the capoeira dance technique. The performance was wildly applauded throughout its four-night run in the intimate Croix-Rousse theater.

This year’s festival attracted 87,000 spectators, a 10 percent increase over the 2000 edition, and more than 300,000 people filled the streets for the giant dance parade that has become a Lyon tradition. Proud of the growing success of the festival, Darmet confirmed that he would not be stepping down as anticipated; his energy and dedication will continue through the next two years.