June 22–July 12, 2012
Presiding over one of Europe’s most exciting contemporary dance festivals like an obsessed potentate, Jean-Paul Montanari has been at the helm of Montpellier Dance since 1983, two years after its founding by Dominique Bagouet, who died of AIDS in 1992. The pressures of assembling a collage of new works, groups, and themes year after year—along with tried-and-true big names—must, no doubt, be enormous.
And so it was that this year’s festival, dubbed, “The Taste of the Mediterranean,” offered 37 artists from 19 different countries who presented 23 world and French premieres from a host of mostly Middle Eastern and Arabic troupes. There was also an interesting slate of Iranian films, as well as a slew of festival regulars. The whole, however, turned out to be less than the sum of its ambitious parts.
With a budget north of one million euros and numerous conferences and free events on tap (including Rima Maroun’s photo exhibition), the festival presented 59 concerts over 16 days, attended by some 27,000 spectators. Admittedly, this reviewer only caught seven out of 27 performances (June 24–29), but, to paraphrase an expression, “Where’s the entrecôte?”
Ah, while much of the beef was served at after-concert soirees, there were, fortunately, several artists who helped make this 32nd edition noteworthy, including Lebanese dancer/choreographer Danya Hammoud. In her premiere, Mahalli (My Place) the performer, clad in Wafa Aoun’s little black dress (where were the pearls?), moved sensuously to Cristian Sotomayor’s moody electronic soundtrack.
With her enigmatic smile and seductive hip swivelings, Hammoud was a Lebanese Mona Lisa, albeit one crossed with a come-hither Marilyn Monroe. Sphinx-like and rooted to the floor one moment, arms outstretched like a flower bursting into bloom the next, Hammoud packed a kind of deconstructed belly dance punch in a mere 30 minutes.
Raimund Hoghe and Takashi Ueno in Hoghe's Pas de Deux. Photo by Rosa Frank, Courtesy Montpellier.
Brevity, however, is not Raimund Hoghe’s strong suit. Limited by his humpbacked body, the former Pina Bausch dramaturge has never let his disability—or middle age—stop him from piling on scene after scene in his surreal, sometimes excruciatingly repetitious works (he’s made more than a dozen). With Pas de deux, which premiered last year in Paris, Hoghe and his partner made use of mirrored gestures in this homage to balletic couplings. Here, his danseur noble was the marvelous Takeshi Ueno, who, whether leaping, crouching, or carrying Hoghe in a series of dramatic lifts, proved mesmerizing.
Set to a musical pastiche of Bach, Piaf, and Garland, the work (which travels to New York in the fall) not only tapped into Ueno’s culture—the pair walking oh-so-slowly in Japanese heeled sandals (geta), as well as addressing Hiroshima—it also accented Hoghe’s humor. He was Ginger to Ueno’s Fred; he was a lone Garland, hands on hips, sporting shades and dragging on a faux cigarette holder.
At two hours (and in need of trimming), this was performance as metaphorical roulette wheel, with the black box theater transforming, by turns, into a padded cell, place of worship, or social hall, where real connections, not virtual ones, were made.
Connections, unfortunately, were not evident in Mathilde Monnier’s world premiere, Twin Paradox. Ostensibly about marathon dancing, the two-hour opus featured five couples clinging to one another for extended periods of time, giving it a sado-masochistic bent that also involved slow-motion rolling about and unison spoonings. Set to Luc Ferrari’s irritating sound collage (cars revving, warped Beethoven snippets, and cowboy-twanged voice-overs), Twin could have made better use of its stellar dancers, among them, Jonathan Pranlas, Félix Ott, and Marion Ballester, all showing emotional grit.
Set designer Annie Tolleter provided relief with a downpour of orange-colored snowflakes, but this was too little too late. Monnier, a festival favorite, seems to have run out of ideas, unless the notion of monotony and frozen tableaux hold a particular fascination.
Ennui also ruled in It Shocks Me But Not You, a world premiere from Iranian-born Ali Moini, wherein he and three others walked around a square area in Frankenstein mode, spouting sentences having something to do with a taxicab crash, a hospital, and acute psychological trauma.
Hip-hop is big in France, but Brahim Bouchelaghem’s world premiere, Hiya, featuring four housedress-clad women noodling about in their own private angst, was the Leave It to Beaver of the genre, climaxing with a quasi-Maypole dance. Faring a little better was the collective 2 Temps 3 Movements. In what was billed as a fusion of hip-hop and circus arts, directors Mathieu Desseigne, Sylvain Bouillet, and Nabil Hemaïza were joined onstage by Marie Bauer to perform the premiere, Et des poussières… (dust). The quartet proved more Pilobolussian than hip-hop, occasionally forging intriguing shapes with their bodies, but the final extended romp through a pile of leaves came out of left field.
Forsythe's Yes, We Can't. Photo by Dominik Mentzos, Courtesy Montpellier.
Talk about left field: William Forsythe’s new version of his Yes, We Can’t (originally made in 2010), presented at the Corum Opera House, was a deliberate exercise in bad dance-making. “We’re trying to fail,” Forsythe had said in a press conference, adding, “If you try to fail and you do, do you succeed?”
To put it bluntly, yes. Forsythe’s troupe of 16, accompanied by David Morrow, who performed his own piano score live, knocked convention on its head with singing, speaking (in French), jostling and heckling each other in the name of, well, screwball commedia dell’arte. There was little sustained movement, but flashes of tango, high kicks, and a soupçon of pointe work contributed to this madcap scenario. An uncomplicated, unsophisticated study in “bad taste” (to quote Forsythe), at 70 minutes, Yes, delivered its overly long message with Forsythian farce.
Other choreographers in this edition included Bouchra Ouizguen, Mourad Merzouki, Salia Sanou and Saburo Teshigawara. And while not every dancemaker or dance has the power to surprise, inspire, or provoke, Montanari’s global curatorial efforts must certainly be applauded. Indeed, with the world in a constant state of change, it’s great to know that—for dance—we’ll always have Montpellier.
Pictured at top: Marion Ballester, Jonathan Pranlas, Julia Cima, and Cédric Andrieu in Mathilde Monnier's Twin Paradox.
Photo by Marc Coudrais, Courtesy Montpellier.