Summer may be the slow season for our regular dance houses, but it’s the hot season for the festival track. After big Montreal titles like Festival TransAmériques and Fringe Festival, there is another world-class happening just outside the city limits. Celebrating a quarter century this year, the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur brings together dance and music in an oasis for artists and spectators alike. From August 3 to 13, intimate encounters with top performers take place in this quaint village at the foot of the picturesque Laurentian mountains.
We know that Quebec is a hub for creation and produces a quantity, and quality, of artists like few other places. It isn’t only the metropolitan cities that awaken the creative spirit; the diverse landscape of mountains, water and snowy, or at this time of year lush, views are as much an important part of this province’s inspirational qualities. Saint-Sauveur attracts the best in ski and snowboarding in the winter, and top dancers and musicians in the summer. On the roster for this year’s FASS are Martha Wainright, Misty Copeland and Guillaume Côté, for starters.
Côté performs, but is also the multi-talented Artistic director of the festival. A principal dancer for the National Ballet of Canada, rising choreographer and part-time composer (where does he find the time?), he is also born and bred in Quebec. Following in festival founder Lou Gordon’s footsteps, Côté is absolutely hands-on in keeping up the excellence and soul of FASS. From personally introducing performances to leading post-show Q&A with the artists under the big top, he is constantly roaming around the festival grounds. Free shows take place a block away from the big top, by the church that marks the heart of the rue Principale and acts as a landmark of Québécois culture. Cafes, unique shops and restaurants line the street, and a silent auction supporting future seasons of FASS easily make an outing here a full day getaway.
I hadn’t visited FASS since I was a child, but my memories of it were spot on. Attending last week’s performance of OCD Love by L-E-V Company, I was transported by the dancing and the unique experience. It was like going to a fair and stumbling upon a local show where you think to yourself, this is going to be the next big thing. Except, it already is a big thing: L-E-V is a groundbreaking company from Israel making waves in contemporary dance. We just so happen to have the insane opportunity to see them on a perfectly modest outdoor stage, and every seat in the tent gives you a view of the sweat dripping from the dancers’ brows. This closeness brings a whole new level of appreciation for performance. It’s beyond the rave-party-meets-classical-training choreography and the house DJ beats. It’s about the character and individuality of each performer, that you notice in the crinkle of their eyes and subtleties of their interpretation.
If you feel like summer has slipped away and you want to catch the best of it before it’s gone, pack an overnight bag and getaway to Saint-Sauveur immediately. The closing two days of the festival are set to be its climax. As a recent tradition, FASS ends with two evenings of A Night With the Stars, a showcase of the best dance has to offer. I’m giddy (and honestly disbelieving) that ballet superstar Misty Copeland will be among urban contemporary royalty Anne Plamondon, National Ballet of Canada’s Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté, The Royal Ballet’s Nehemiah Kish and Yuhui Choe, and fellow American Ballet Theater dancer Blaine Hoven for a veritable feast of gasp-worthy solos and pas de deux… or so I have now hyped it up to be! Now it’s off to the mountains to check it out.
Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur