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FESTIVAL DES ARTS DE SAINT-SAUVEUR

August 10, 2014

July 31 to August 9, 2014

The Big Top at Saint-Sauveur, set up especially for the festival

The Big Top at Saint-Sauveur, set up especially for the festival

If the opening show of this 10-day summer festival is an indicator, it will be well worth attending the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur (FASS) next year.

After 10 years at the helm, festival artistic director Anik Bissonnette has stepped down, and Guillaume Côté of the National Ballet of Canada is taking over the reins. This year’s festival was somewhat of a training ground for Côté, as he planned the two final programs and was pretty much the highlight of the opening event (see last blog entry).

Born in Quebec (Lac-Saint-Jean), a principal of the National Ballet since 2004 and its choreographic associate since last year, Côté has danced around the world as a guest artist, has his finger on the pulse of dance in Canada and has an extensive network from which to draw.

As artistic director of FASS, he will be a curator more than an artist, and admits his biggest challenge will be convincing dance artists to come for the smaller fees.

“The programming is not that hard,” Côté told me as he lounged near the pool of Manoir Saint-Sauveur on the last day of the festival. “But you have to empower the dancers, make them happy.”

And he believes it’s important to bring in the big performers to FASS, because Quebec doesn’t see much high-level classical dance.

“I think I will be able to offer the best of American, European and Canadian dance. But I don’t want it to be an elitist festival. I want it to serve the community of Saint-Sauveur and the Laurentians, and to get an underground buzz large enough to drag people from Montreal and Ottawa, as well as Toronto.”

In fact, Côté envisions a Canadian version of Jacob’s Pillow, an international dance festival in the Berkshires that has been drawing thousands from across the world to view performances, attend classes, and share exhibits and films.

“I’d like it to be a summer hangout, a place where people come and see new talent. It’s a great opportunity to give exposure to important talent, to balance that with the big stars.”

FASS executive director Nathalie Grosshenny says five shows sold out this year for the first time, playing to about 4,500 people. She expects Côté’s direction will attract younger audiences, and take more dance into the streets.

THE HIDDEN GEMS OF FASS 2014

Bite: a captivating duet created by Stuttgart Ballet dancer Katarzyna Kozielska, a new choreographer worth watching, Bite is a perfect work of art for the long-limbed Anna Osadcenko and Jason Reilly. Clad in tight shiny black costume (he bare chested), Osadcenko and Reilly are amazingly attuned, and a welcome contrast to the tutus and glitter of the classical works. Reilly performs some daring lifts and Osadcenko is utterly flexible as the two push off each other’s legs and arms like spiders. Accompanied by the music of Gabriel Prokofiev, Bite is creepy and beautiful at the same time.

Torontonian Jason Reilly’s engaging and skillful performance of Eric Gauthier’s humorous Ballet 101. Reilly is a true dance artist and a standout!

Alberta Ballet's Yukichi Hattori, Photograph by Paul McGrath

Alberta Ballet’s Yukichi Hattori, photograph by Paul McGrath

As is Yukichi Hattori, a creative wonder who was the hit of Alberta Ballet’s Love Lies Bleeding as Elton John fan last year. Hattori, who trained in Tokyo and Hamburg, is a choreographer with a unique voice and a charismatic dancer of infinite grace. His Kilter, presented at FASS on the last two nights, uses colourful dance language, even if we don’t understand it. From pantomime to hip hop, the style is bold and engaging on some level with a narrative undercurrent. His other piece, Temple, set to Gregorian chants, was an audience favourite.

The two final programs mainly featured duets from major classical ballets, performed by such stars as Côté and Greta Hodgkinson of the National Ballet of Canada, Joaquin de Luz of the New York City Ballet, Misa Kuranaga of the Boston Ballet, Anna Osadcenko of Stuttgart Ballet, as well as the young and charming up-and-comers Shaila d’Onofrio and Francesco Gabriele Frola of the National Ballet.

I must say it was disappointing that a film tribute to outgoing director Bissonnette was in French with no English subtitles, as it lost its meaning for any non-French-speaking audience members.

THE MODERNS

Martha Graham's Echo

Martha Graham’s Echo

The American Martha Graham Dance Company and Compagnie Marie Chouinard of Montreal were first-time presenters at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, bringing examples of modern dance to the Big Top stage that couldn’t be more different.

The former, whose radical founder Martha Graham changed the course of American acting and who choreographed for seven decades, continues to expand the vocabulary of contemporary dance with current choreographers creating new works. Chouinard’s personal dance language has earned international reputation since she created her first solo in 1978 and the company, formed in 1990, continues to perform Chouinard’s provocative and surprising works.

It was educational – rather than entertaining — to witness the Martha Graham Dance Company’s much earlier works of the 1940s, created by Graham herself, that is, the “love” ballet Diversion of Angels and the classic Errand, loosely derived from the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. But the later choreography, Lamentation Variations, and the brand new Echo, which reflects the story of Narcissus and Echo, are far more interesting and telling of the company’s current skills.

Lamentation Variations is a 2007 commission created to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and was intended as a single performance, but audience response motivated the company to add it to its permanent repertory. Set to such works as Chopin’s Nocturne in F Sharp, Opus 15 No. 2 and Mahler’s Lieder eienes fahrenden Gesellen, the 20-minute piece is a fascinating example of soulful and artistic dance performance, divided into three segments choreographed by Larry Keigwin, Richard Move and Bulareyaung Pagarlava.

Echo, choreographed by Greek artist Andonis Foniadakis, is a furiously paced work. The long finely pleated skirts on the dancers whirl around their bodies to form independent images. It’s almost exhausting to watch, but the strange interaction between the two main male dancers creates a rather twisted emotional energy.

Chouinard’s program overall was disappointing. Her 24 Preludes by Chopin (from Chopin’s Opus 28) is a witty, poetic and stark play on the emotion in the music – a clever juxtaposition of old music with new movement. Warm amber or harsh blue lighting hovers over the dancers as they perform solos, duets, quartets or in larger groups. Sometimes dancers are separated into independent performances as if one is the rhythm and the other the melody. The whole, however, is choppy.

Her second presentation, a newer piece that has been in the works for several years, is inspired by Henri Michaux’s book “Mouvements,” which comprises 64 pages of India-ink drawings and a 15-page poem.

Henri Michaux: Mouvements, for the most part, is boring and disturbing. It has the air of being very experimental as dancers attempt to “copy” Michaux’s drawings by twisting their bodies into grotesque poses. The result diminishes the art and does nothing for the dance. The ear-splitting, unpoetic accompaniment is a further distraction. The only saving grace of this work is a very brief respite towards the end (and we had to wait so long for this!) when the ink drawings reverse into white splotches on a dark stage, and a strobe light bathes the dancers in a magical projection as they speed up the pace. During this phase, two dancers present a breathtaking otherworldly duet.

 

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