Montpellier Dance Festival

August 7, 2008

Montepellier, France

June 22–July 5, 2008

On the anniversary of his 25th year as director of Montpellier Danse, Jean-Paul Montanari reminded crowds that above all, he seeks to defend creativity. This year’s edition included no less than 14 world premieres. Often referred to as the Tower of Babel of Dance, the Montpellier Festival is a formidable occasion for dance companies from across the globe to perform together in this, one of France’s foremost university towns.

    Among the memorable discoveries made here this year was the long awaited collaboration between Montpellier’s own internationally renowned choreographer Mathilde Monnier and her contemporary, the Spanish performance artist La Ribot, in the gravely burlesque Gustavia.

“After we stop crying,” announced theatrically teary-eyed Monnier at the piece’s opening, “our femininity will disappear.” Clad in black leotards, high heels and bare legs, the duo then launched into a scathingly critical exploration of the female identity, presenting a mockery of femininity. At times funny, violent, often unsettling, Gustavia was a darkly burlesque deconstruction of sexual codes.

    The performances here were largely inspired by themes dealing with immigration, migration, and exile. London-based Bangladeshi Akram Khan’s most recent work Bahok with the National Ballet of China was one of the strongest examples, and was wildly received by enthusiastic crowds. J’accuse!, the prize-winning solo performance by Senegalese Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye, known as Kaolack, dealt with the politically charged consequences of African expatriation. With gutteral force, verve, and a touch of humor, he brilliantly exposed the inhumanity of immigration laws currently afflicting Africans both at home and abroad.

    Performed at midnight, and forbidden to spectators under 18, Pascal Rambert’s explosive Libido Sciendi, a brief, nude duo, presented exclusively here in Montpellier, featured dancers Ikue Nakagawa and Lorenzo de Angelis as they explored, licked, and absorbed the erotic zones of each other’s bodies. Although Rambert both feared, and solicited, an outrage, the piece was memorable not for any tangible uproar, but for its unexpected ode to the tender silence of lovemaking.

    Perhaps the festival’s most astounding moments, however, surfaced through German artist Raimund Hoghe’s work, a regularly invited guest here. Following up on his previous interpretations of the classics Swan Lake and The Rite of Spring, this former dramaturge for Pina Bausch and native of Wuppertal tackled Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, in an intensely rigorous two-hour study of memory and music. Performed in the historic outdoor courtyard of the Ursulines convent, Boléro Variations will long be remembered here for its simplicity, its intensity, the grave emotions it evoked and the standing ovation it received.

    With this delectable smorgasbord of international performances from Africa, America, Europe and Asia, the abundant sunshine and long summer days of this Mediterranean town kept sell-out crowds grooving from dawn to dusk in a frenzy of cultural connections.


Photo of Emmanuel Eggermont and Raimund Hoghe. By Rosa Frank.