Dance finds ‘sea legs’ at Montpellier Danse 2024

Dance · Travel
au bord de la mer, on the cote d’azure, in nice

The expression, to “find your sea legs” feels apt for dance right now. The term refers to the human body’s struggle to adjust to the pitching-and-rocking of a ship in motion. It’s a jolting loss of balance; it’s the absence of terra firma. Four years after the onset of a global pandemic, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to apply the metaphor to our art form, given its full interruption from 2020-22.To gauge the state of dance’s sea legs in Europe, I journeyed to attend Montpellier Danse, a forward-looking French festival in its 44th year. I’m happy to report a vital and vibrant art form, replenished and reinvigorated by an influx of young dancers eager to put bodies in motion — up close and personal — as they bring a choreographer’s canvas to life.

My biggest discovery of the festival (my visit was a scant four evenings!) was a minimalist work by Iranian born Armin Hokmi’s “Shiraz.” My review of that work is here.

“Shiraz,” a minimalist outing of accumulating, deep gestures

“Shiraz” was a boutique-scaled work for a smallish troupe, performed in a black box theater. In stark contrast was “Lunar Halo” by Cheng Tsung-lung for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. On a very dark stage, stacked body-to-body, a huge posse of dancers advanced as a giant caterpillar. After a scant ten minutes of Cloud Gate’s acrobatics-driven pageantry, I knew the work was not my bag. Many in the French audience later shared with me their high praise for the company’s beautifully trained dancers–and, no lie, that is a huge attraction. But I do not do well with hordes of dancers moving in tandem as sardines in a can. I can’t watch it.

Synchronized Sardine Can

My preference is for the nearly-gnarly, messy, individualized look that dominated the Festival — for me, more apt, more real, more palatable, more “relatable.” Morocco-based choreographer Taoufia Izeddiou presented a triple-play of boutique, black-box-scaled works, two of which I saw and enjoyed. In “Hmadcha,” what first appeared as a ragtag group of men engage in a nearly hypnotic-style dance of pulsing torsos and unified leaps. The work began with a single dancer undulating his chest, as though heaving. This set up a rhythmic flow, a trance dance. Joined on stage, near to the end of the work, by the choreographer, a marvelously chunky-but-fluid mover, the entire operation elevated. It felt like an exercise in male bonding without an iota of machismo, but rather co-joining the feminine and masculine movement qualities of the male form. The dance, which has been around since 2021 and clearly has been tweaked and improved was much augmented by its set design, a single white bright wall, and vivid lighting highlighting the choreography. It is a sophisticated dance work.

Izeddiou’s HMADCHA (2021)

Also to my liking (a lot) was “Il Cimento Dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione” by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker for the Belgian-based company, Rosas. Created in tandem with yet another Moroccan choreographer/dancer Radouan Mrziga, the work featured four male dancers in loose-fitting, striped sports gear. This oddly unmatched quartet made a crazy, disparate dance happening in the formal setting of Montpellier’s late-nineteenth-century Comédie Opera House. After her recent work to Bach, the choreographer has moved on to Vivaldi’s well-known Four Seasons — marvelous music for dance due to its rhythmic forward propulsion, with the obvious downside of its sing-song over-familiarity. De Keersmaeker, making short shrift of the latter by actively punctuating the dance proceedings with the music — in bits, snippets, deconstructions and long spoolings.

“Il Cimento” began in a long stretch of silence, which was maddening, but, hey. Why not break the audience’s will right at the outset? Lead dancer Boštjan Antončič held the stage, motionless, as a backdrop of white fluorescent tubing flashed behind him. A secret show person, De Keersmaeker gave lengthy outings to the individual talents of her four dancers. One turned like a top, another excelled at break dancing, another tapped. And in and out popped Vivaldi. The choreography resolutely (if not perversely) staved off any single movement genre, in essence, we were watching post-post-post modern dance. The four men, each not the other’s equal in stature, movement quality, or training, nonetheless were bound by a secret sauce of tonality, or performance quality. This fascinating jumble curiously cohered.

“Il Cimento” lay claim as an environmental prospectus on our natural world — as well as a study in geometry, as the four gentlemen moved in clear, repeating patterns and shapes. An artist’s statement, surely the voice of the choreographer, broadcast in English at the end of the performance felt superfluous. It seemed to pertain to her environmental statement.

Rosas, in Il Cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione. Photo © Anne Van Aerschot

Last but very much not least was a viewing of a major work of dance theater at the Opera Berlioz at The Corum — Angelin Preljocag’s “Requiem(s).” With 60 choreographies under his belt, Preljocaj is a major league dance player beloved by French audiences. This work, a requiem, inspired by the recent death of his parents, paraded much darkness and religious iconography on the stage. The audience lapped it up. Whistles and standing ovation. I, however, passed the performance in dance torture. More on the Preljocaj “Requiem(s)” to come.

Dance critic Debra Levine, the founder/publisher/editor of artsmeme now in its sixteenth year of arts-blogging, was honored to attend Montpellier Danse 2024.

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Shelley Duvall, in her special dance as Olive Oyl, recalled by Sharon Kinney, her choreographer 4

Dance · Film

Seen above, a personal photo published with permission. It is a beatific pose by the recently deceased actress Shelley Duvall dancing as Olive Oyl in director Robert Altman’s “Popeye” (1980). Duvall (1949-2024), who recently passed away, led a long and memorable career primarily as a character actress, but in this case she played a full leading role countering Robin Williams as Popeye. Her indelible outing in a winsome solo number, “He Needs Me,” to a song by Harry Nillson may be enjoyed here:

Sharon Kinney. a good Friend of Artsmeme (F.O.A.M.), the creator/choreographer/coach of Shelley’s special dance, tells us that Duvall did her own singing in the number. She was not dubbed which would be common in this circumstance.

The dance world reveres Sharon for having been one of choreographer Paul Taylor‘s original dancers in his iconic dance company. But since retiring from performance, she has led a fruitful career as an instructor at Cal State Long Beach, as a filmmaker and indeed as a dance-film choreographer/coach living in Los Angeles. Sharon shared with Facebook friends her memories of working with the lanky Ms. Duvall in staging a solo song “He Needs Me,” in the Altman film.

Sharon reminisced,

She was so professional, so invested and really wanted to personify Olive Oyl and her love for Popeye! She did great things before with Altman and had just finished the Shining with Stanley Kubrick! She then went on to do some other great work with Faierie Tale theater!

Shelley Duvall’s inscription to Sharon Kinney on the glossy photo is good natured. “Think I’ll ever make New York City Ballet?” she mused. Dance “people” will recognize the innate beauty of her pose that is rooted in the cartoon version of OO as gangly. Even in her clodhopper shoes, this Olive Oyl is luscious.

sharon kinney left, coaches shelley duvall movement in song

artsmeme sends a big oyly ‘muah’ to sharon kinney for permission to publish her photos.

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