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montpellier danse 2012

in pursuit of failure & the body possible

mary kate connolly: montpellier danse 2012

Mary Kate Connolly is Programme Leader for MA Creative Practice at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Her performance research has explored the collaborative potential between costume and movement. She is solo performer in Old Into New, a project produced with the Victoria & Albert Museum and London College of Fashion. Initially performed in Prague as part of PQ11, this research is ongoing.

Yes we can’t, William Forsythe & the Forsythe Company Dancers Yes we can’t, William Forsythe & the Forsythe Company Dancers
photo Dominik Mentzos

This year Montpellier Danse continued its voyage around the Mediterranean basin, presenting artists from Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Spain and Turkey. A short foray mid-festival revealed works which explored failure, exhaustion, madness, and the body possible…

william forsythe: yes we can’t

“If you try to fail, and you do...have you succeeded?” This is the question asked by William Forsythe in relation to the new version of his 2008 work Yes we can’t. This version, which bears little relation to its original incarnation, is (as its title suggests) an attempt at failure; an exploration of bad taste. The original piece, according to Forsythe “was not very good...and realising this, we decided to make it worse.”

And worse it is. The costumes are awful (with sequined leggings, ugly high-heeled shoes and terrible wigs), the music (a nauseating melange of famous works, from classical to Broadway hits) always appearing for just long enough to be recognised, but utterly misplaced or out of sync. This is dance-as-nightmare—a constant assault of dance styles, from ballet to jazz to esoteric contemporary dance, each rendered dreadful in their combination. Some of the choreography is executed with mesmerising technique and some flat-footed and clumsily. The unrelenting result of all this is mesmerising chaos, which is somehow impossible not to continue watching.

Of course this is not the first and will not be the last attempt by a choreographer to mine the 20th century dance canon for comedy and acerbic comment. Dance makes for an easy target, replete with clichés and iconic moments which can be reproduced for comedic effect. But to ‘succeed’ in the creation of bad taste is not always so easy. The choreography in Yes we can’t cleverly progresses too quickly for the viewer to digest. It oscillates too frequently between fancy-dancing and displays of sublime technique to be categorised, either within the realm of pastiche or ironic post-modernism.

Summarising the work at a pre-performance press conference, Forsythe ventured that, “It’s not sophisticated for about half an hour; then it’s sophisticated for 10 minutes (but there’s no dancing). And becomes even less sophisticated.” It is within those “sophisticated” 10 minutes which Forsythe alludes to that Yes we can’t shows its hand. Addressing the audience in French, one of the dancers embarks on the first of several extended apologies for the awfulness of the show. He explains in conciliatory tones that the dancers are not this bad normally, that it’s a shame that the audience couldn’t have been there for the rehearsal when they were much better...This fawning, which of course makes things worse, and goes on far too long, reveals the self-awareness of the work before continuing its descent towards a bad ending.

The placement of Yes we can’t within Montpellier Danse 2012 makes for interesting programming in a festival which never shies away from presenting the unashamedly beautiful or theatrical. Yes we can’t does not operate solely for the pursuit of laughs. It attempts to unpick the nature of dance practice and spectatorship, and the perhaps unavoidable clichés that surround them. One vignette sees a dancer in naff red and white gym leotard perform a highly skilled gymnastic solo complete with red ribbon. His skill is breathtaking, and while we laugh when he gets tangled in the ribbon or fails to catch it after a soaring leap, we become ever more aware of our enjoyment in the spectacle of his technique. This is dance spectatorship laid bare as guilty pleasure, and we cannot escape the awareness of our own implication in this relationship.

mathilde monnier, twin paradox

Twin Paradox, Mathilde Monnier Twin Paradox, Mathilde Monnier
photo Marc Coudrais
Another work which shone an uncomfortable spotlight on spectatorship was French choreographer Mathilde Monnier’s Twin paradox. Arising from research into American Dance Marathons of the 1920s and folk dances from around the world, Twin paradox makes for an uneasy exploration of duration, repetition, survival and exhaustion. On a harshly lit stage with gaudy orange floor, a series of couples undertake endless duets. Linked physically at all times, they entwine, become locked in clumsy embraces, before rolling and unfolding into the next entanglement. The choreography begins slowly, with an almost sculptural air, but as the piece progresses the movements become ever swifter, more repetitive and harder to watch.

By the end of the work the dancers are clearly exhausted and, in a way, so too are the spectators. As a viewer there is an odd discomfort between being bored by the relentless, almost violent motion, yet acutely aware of the effort expended by the dancers onstage. Here, once again the spectators are conscious, not only of their position in the bargain between performer and audience, but are also moved to question the nature of spectatorship in dance. The dancers continue to move, to dance (according to Monnier), “in spite of everything. To dance after everything.” And we keep watching.

The final half-hour of the work is pure pain, both to do and to watch, and perhaps that is, after all, the point of the work. Dancers fall repeatedly in swoons, caught in the nick of time by their dance partners. While admittedly Twin paradox does not make for easy viewing, it nonetheless provokes some intriguing considerations. The costumes, lighting and noisy soundscape create an altogether hostile environment in which dance becomes a last desperate struggle to assert itself above all else. This could not be achieved it would seem, with a comfortable ride provided for the dancers or spectators.

out of lebanon and morroco

 Ha!, Bouchra Ouizguen Ha!, Bouchra Ouizguen
courtesy the company
In addition to world renowned choreographers such as Forsythe and Monnier, the festival’s theme of programming artists from around the Mediterranean Basin provided an eclectic mix, with some striking performances. Lebanese Danya Hammoud performed a spare, pared down solo entitled Mahalli which, whilst somewhat limited in its remit, nonetheless made for a distilled contemplation of movement, and the power of small gestures.

Morocco-born Bouchra Ouizguen’s Ha! charted a pleasing path between humour and melancholy. Opening on a scarcely lit stage, four female figures become visible in the gloom. Clad in headscarves, they rock repetitively. Thus begins a quixotic journey into the realms of female kinship, strength, humour, and madness. The figures onstage do not comply with the norm of athletically trained dancers. With the exception of one, they are rotund; barrel-shaped even. Ouizgen says that she creates dance in the context of modern-day Morocco, recruiting dancers from the street whom she chances across. Central to Ha! is the body, and the strange landscape that these women provide, through song and an interrogation of movement. At times they stamp, laugh hysterically, perform delightfully awkward leg kicks, or pile on top of one another in strange mounds.

By turns they become the archetypal crones of a market-place, with scarves tied under their chins, or warrior-like figures with feet planted squarely on the ground in a gesture of defiance. What is most delightful about this work is the fact that it surrenders neither to spoof nor to overly earnest posturing. It determines a language of its own, drawn from the body and the characters onstage, which it sticks to without exception.

The diverse arrays of work at Montpellier negate categorisation, and also render them too innumerable to mention. It was possible in many, however, to detect a continual chipping-away at the boundaries of what dance is, and can do—to create more possibilities for failure and success, and to undermine the very categories on which these terms are built.

Montpellier Danse 2012: Yes we can’t, choreography William Forsythe & the Forsythe Company Dancers, music David Morrow, costumes Dorothée Merg; Twin paradox, choreography Mathilde Monnier, music Luc Ferrari, costumes Laurence Alquier; Mahalli, choreographer, performer Danya Hammoud, sound Cristian Sotomayor, Danya Hammoud, costume Wafa Aoun; Ha!, choreography Bouchra Ouizguen, costumes Nourreddine Amir; Montpellier, France, June 22-July 7

Mary Kate Connolly is Programme Leader for MA Creative Practice at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Her performance research has explored the collaborative potential between costume and movement. She is solo performer in Old Into New, a project produced with the Victoria & Albert Museum and London College of Fashion. Initially performed in Prague as part of PQ11, this research is ongoing.

RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. 14

© Mary Kate Connolly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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