Montpellier Dance Festival

June 23, 2007

Montpellier Dance Festival

Montpellier, France

June 23–July 7, 2007

Reviewed by Rita Felciano                                          


A midsummer night in Montpellier means watching dance in outdoor courtyards and taking the bus to outlying theaters. It means encountering established artists in big venues and meeting new ones on smaller stages. Rarely did these lesser known artists provide completely satisfying theatrical experiences but almost always did they offer challenging, intriguing concepts, carefully and consistently explored. Movement frequently was of less interest than the asking of questions about the how, what, and why of Dance. High production values, however, were in evidence everywhere.

    Among the more refined presentations was Christine Jouve and Patrickandrédepuis1966’s pointillist France-Algérie, a luminous exploration of memory and the interdependence of two cultures. The installation-like piece offered some two dozen mini-episodes that accumulated into a tentative picture of ongoing, sometimes tortuous relationships. Potential Molotov cocktails became lanterns. A balloon pushed into an aquarium threatened its goldfish. How long could a lifted foot withstand the heat of a candle lit underneath? Garment bags stacked inside each other disassembled into lined-up body bags; a cookie metamorphosed into a tongue kiss. These imagistic actions—some more obvious than others—were interspersed by duets of unbalanced but stable partnering, with lanky dancer Antonia Puns Capo often reaching off Patrickandrédepuis’ hip like a ship prow’s figurehead.

    An exceptionally powerful solo was Raimund Hoghe’s 1994 Meinwaerts (Toward myself). A former dramaturge for Pina Bausch, Hoghe, who is five feet tall and has a severely misshapen spine, wanted to bring this—his first piece—to honor others who have lived with stigmas. (This year’s festival was dedicated to its founder Dominique Bagouet, who died of AIDS in 1992). Hoghe’s performance, at times almost invisible in a dark lit by tiny tea-light candles, mesmerized. At first he suspended himself, nude, on a trapeze with his deformed back—a “landscape” he calls it—towards us. In the tenor of the ‘40s, the simple walking patterns, the reading from journals, letters, memories—the Bausch influence was clear, but their quiet intensity was Hoghe. Old recordings by Joseph Schmidt, a Jewish tenor (also five feet tall) who died while escaping from the Nazis, added their own ghostly notes to this exquisite tribute to outsider status.

    Another (quasi) solo, Christian Rizzo’s B.c, Janvier 1545, Fontainebleau may easily qualify as the Festival’s glamour puss, celebrating an ice-cold perfection à la Antonioni. Rizzo, who is also a trained sculptor, hung coal black objects—upside down bushes? disemboweled carcasses?—into a brilliant white-box environment. With him in a rabbit suit observing from the sidelines and ultimately upending the suspended sculptures, Julie Guibert, on a black table and in a black bodysuit and shoes with five-inch silver heels, appeared an effigy. As she came to life she stretched and contorted her body into a series of slow, repeated phrases, ceremonial processions but also echoes of the macabre objects with which she shared the space. At first, performed in silence, then to the growing cacophony of Gerome Nox’s score, her trajectory never veered from what seemed preordained. Given its title, the piece can be read as a premonition of cataclysmic historical events to come, but more than anything, Rizzo was exploring, glacial pacing within a subtly shifting environment. At 65 minutes, he pushed the concept, but the piece left strong memories.

    Even more slowly paced was Viennese choreographer Philipp Gehmacher’s somber trio Like there’s no tomorrow. His extreme minimalist approach cost him quite a few walkouts. Still, the concept and its uncompromising realization proved intriguing. At first nothing seemed to happen. Clara Cornil, Rémy Héritier, and David Subal simply stood. A glance might pass, a finger twitch, a body might drop. Two dancers stood face to face. Long pauses stretched into what seemed eternity. Yet the stasis and the silence—the space between the gestures—began to acquire a life of their own. Eventually, something like a triangular relationship seemed to evolve. But this uncompromising work so much skirted the edge of the perceptible that you couldn’t be sure.

    Quite robust was Alain Buffard’s theatrically savvy, (Not) a Love Song with would-be divas Vera Mantero and Claudia Triozzi, dressed in Chanel and Christian Lacroix respectively. Miguel Gutierrez, alternately was their fan, lover, interloper, and gym instructor. Lifting whole sequences from iconic films with Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, and Joan Crawford, among others, Buffard created a collage that both mocked and paid tribute to fading glamour queens. The music equally derived from pop favorites, ranging from David Bowie to James Brown and Kurt Weill to Nina Simone. The piece was hugely acclaimed; I thought most of its success was owed to its star performers.