Opening Night at Quartiers Danses


Back on Monday (who schedules dance performances on a Monday?!?) I got to see the opening night festivities for Quartiers Danses. Now as an aside the current scuttlebutt is that dance is the poor bastard child of the arts and gets absolutely no respect, no press and no one cares about it. Well I think that Quartiers Danses is the poor bastard child of dance festivals.

This was the first time in my life that I had seen an opening night where the theatre wasn’t even half full. and they had even taken up a bunch of space with tables replacing chairs, so to begin with there weren’t an awful lot of seats to fill.

Anyhows, since it is quite likely that you’ve never heard of it, Quartiers Danses is a festival that has its mandate to bring dance to the people. Instead of Mohammed going to the mountain, the mountain comes to Mohammed. Unfortunately given the crowd, it was more like a hill or a mound than a mountain.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying “pity.” Because for the most part it was quite good. There were four short pieces performed; L’Absense by Marie Brassard, danced by Sarah Williams. Sente by Lucie Grégoire. Dédale by Françoise Sullivan, danced by Ginette Boutin. And an excerpt from Out of White by Jane Mappin, danced by Francine Liboiron.

I gotta hand it to whomever programed the evening (I presume it was Rafik Hubert Sabbagh) they kind of knew what they were doing. For the first time in my life I thought that the evenings programming went as well together as a well done set by a DJ or a well curated exhibit at a museum. You know the sensation you get when you suddenly sit up and say “Hey! Those things not only only go well together, but they compliment each other and actually make more sense together than apart”? Kind of like that.

I hear y’all asking “why?” (Or my preferred question: “How come?”) Well, they are all variations on the same idea. Basically one woman swaying in space with a focus (more or less) on one part of the body. In Sente it’s the hips, Dédale the arms, and in the excerpt from Out of White it’s the legs.

There were also a couple of cool moments in L’Absense due to the backdrop sort of looking vaguely floor-like and Sarah Williams’ ability to contort herself so despite lying on the floor, it appears as if the audience is hanging from the ceiling – just like one of those photographs by Alain Paiement.

It all really kicked in with Dédale (Daedalus for the people in the house who only read one language, yes that Daedalus). In my lifetime I must’ve seen a 63 year-old dance, but for the life of me I can’t remember one. And I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen a 63 year-old dance done in the presence of its creator. Because yes, Françoise Sullivan was in the house (and yes, I was too chicken to go up and talk to her).

The backstory: Françoise Sullivan first performed Dédale on April 3, 1948, the same day that Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan and the very same day that Arlette Cousture was born. For reasons that I won’t go into here (you can find the details elsewhere) it’s a fairly significant piece of of work within the context of Quebecois culture.

I don’t know if it has ever been performed since then (my guess would be yes) but either way, it’s still pretty gosh darn cool to see a dance that was made way back then. For the most part dance eats its young and not an awful lot of it survives to adolescence, let alone old age.

Nine minutes long, it starts with Ms. Boutin tapping on her hip and then expanding on that movement ever so slightly over time until she is rolling about on stage. Even if you don’t know the story of Daedalus it works. And as a connecting piece between Sente and Out of White it works even better.

Sente is basically a woman swaying to some fado, while a woman recites something over it (apologies, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the monologue. I’m certain it was important and would have aided me greatly in gaining a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the performance, but I was kind of getting a kick out of watching Lucie Grégoire move. Sometimes a superficial and simplistic appreciation is all that is needed).

And then in the excerpt from Out of White you get Francine Liboiron lying on her back making her legs act like hand puppets. It’ll be interesting to see how that little bit fits into the larger piece which I am going to see on Thursday, I think.

None of the dances have any elaborate costumes or fancy lighting. The soundtracks (when there were any) were either completely ignorable, as was the case with Sente or completely forgettable, as was the case with the others. So basically what you got was dance. Movement in a fairly controlled and focused state. And when it’s done well, it definitely deserves to have more than a half empty house watching.

One suggestion that I would make to the fine folk who organize the Quartiers Danses, is to switch the time of year when they present it. Trying to compete with all the other season opening events is not working. I’ve followed it now for about three years, and each year (this one included) I’ve always thought “how can I squeeze it in?” Most other dance organizations kick in with big-budget press and marketing at the beginning of September (how many of those Rodin/Claudel ads have you seen?) and trying to compete is obviously not working.

Moving it to March or April would seem to me to be a no-brainer. While most marketing budgets will have been spent by then, the buds on the trees and the weather getting warmer and better make everyone more inclined to do things, get out of the house if you will. It worked for the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, I’m certain it would work for Quartiers Danses.