New Voices and Masters

Article excerpt


During its three-week early summer dance festival, the city of Montpellier just may be the most magical place in the universe. With its soft, sometimes windy Mediterranean climate, days that stretch far into the night, and performances that stretch imaginations and receptiveness, this capital of the south of France is a dance lover's paradise. Cafes are perpetually full, and even performances that start at 10 P.M. draw full houses and leave audiences chatting animatedly way past midnight. Nobody in Montpellier seems to sleep during these weeks.

The twentieth annual festival directed its attention to new voices rising in Southern Europe: Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. And in Africa: South Africa, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Senegal/Nigeria.

Tammorra, by Southern Italy's Adrianna Borriello, petered out in a nondescriptive circle dance, but did feature an intriguing mix of postmodern detachment with movement derived from manual labor and Catholic rituals; it was set to contemporary percussion and Giovanni Coffarelli's haunting, Arab-inflected singing.

Taagala, le voyageur by Burkina Faso's Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro, who also dance in Mathilde Monnier's company, is packed in communal travel imagery--in a boat, stuffed into a womb-like enclosure--with highly individualized sitting, sliding floor movements. Though still somewhat selfconscious, these artists clearly are on the way to creating a tradition-inspired but thoroughly contemporary language of their own.

Monnier, director of Montpellier Centre Choreographique National, organized a weeklong Potlatch derives, inspired by the custom of noncommercial receiving and accepting of the Chinook peoples of the Northwest coast of North America. Some three dozen artists gave and received from each other, exchanging widely divergent live and video performances, installations and discussions. These were free and always jammed. Among them was A prendre ou a laisser by Annie Tolleter, Anna Ziaman and Karim Zeriahen, a white sitting room where one was invited to listen to disembodied conversations; Christian Rizzo and Cathy Olive's hanging of two polyester dresses barely visible down a ninety-foot-long hallway, their windblown swaying carrying echoes of the garments' owners; Jerome Bel's la place du spectateur, during which an audience analyzed its perceptions and assumptions about movement seen; and Brenda Edwards and Eszter Salamon's Ou sont les femmes, in which the two artists--who didn't know each other--tried to find a common ground through dance.

Despite this attention to a new generation of dancemakers, the masters--Sankai Juku, Lucinda Childs and William Forsythe, and to a lesser extent Nacho Duato and Bernard Montet--were not neglected. They showed the solid foundation beneath the work of their younger colleagues.

Honored guest artist, with a world premiere, three solo performances and two exhibitions of his most intriguing visual work, was Jan Fabre, the Flemish all-around man of the theater, who was a major inspiration for Belgian new dance, including Wim Vandekeybus--who performed Fabre's Prometheus-inspired theater monologue Body, little body on the wall.

Fabre's commissioned As long as the world needs a warrior's soul proved to be a Rabelaisan romp into the grotesque in which people screamed at the top of their voices while painting fake wounds on themselves, and a doll gave birth to a slithering, wailing baby. Fabre uses an intensely visceral form of dance theater to question assumptions about being and becoming--both in art and life. Starting with Adam and Eve figures caught in a Kafka-esque interrogation, As long built into an accusatory cry against the perceived robotization of life. …