Japan has always fascinated me. Whereas the unknown can often be synonymous with scary or intimidating, the Japanese culture evokes instead a delightful mystery. On one extreme, we recognize the Japanese in bright and daring fashion. On the other, we know them for being extraordinarily humble and quietly respectful. Their rich culture has evolved so differently from what the western world calls normal, and it has completely captured our imagination. Agora Tangente, the short name for the two-company neighbour-collaborators, indulges our fascination this month with a two-week focus on Japan, Dansu. Comprising three dance shows and a movie series, it’s a close-encounter with the wonderfully foreign scene of current Japanese performance.
Who is more authentic than Jose Navas? After hearing the name from fellow dancers auditioning for his Compagnie Flak, back when I was in ballet school, I only first saw Navas in a photograph, one taken by my Concordia classmate Valerie Simmons. In the simple, static curves of his naked body, he spoke a message so clear that it was beyond words. My next encounter with him, via the film ORA, on which he collaborated with director Philippe Baylaucq, still gives me goosebumps and is among the only times I have seen dance portrayed so truly on film. For his 50th birthday, Navas performed his solo Rites at Danse Danse, pushing his body and his creativity while unabashedly baring his whole self to his audience in his adopted city of Montreal. At Agora de la danse this week, he presents ON, an hommage to his longtime collaborators Marc Parent, light designer, and Alexander MacSween, composer. Evidently, I hopped on the opportunity to witness Navas’ presence once again.
We have never had so much to celebrate in a single year. 2017 marks important birthdays for Canada and Montreal, 125 and 375 years respectively, and is also the inaugural year of a world-class cultural hub right here in la belle province. Opening on the Place des festivals in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, the Édifice Wilder Espace Danse regroups Quebec’s leading purveyors of dance under one roof. Agora de la danse, Tangente, École de Danse contemporaine de Montréal and Les Grands Ballets will share this 10-story building with the Ministry of Culture and Communications, the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec and the Régie du cinéma. Where there used to be designated events for artistic entities to exchange, there will now be daily encounters between people from every perspective of the dance community. And with its central downtown location, the Wilder building will also open its doors to the public to explore and interact with the arts like never before.
Crossing the country to Montreal, Vancouver’s own Company 605 was at the Agora de la danse last week presenting brand new work. Premiering at the Vancouver International Dance Festival in March, they performed their latest piece, Vital Few, across western Canada before embarking on the eastern phase of this country-wide tour. Company 605, previously Collective 605, is know for blending urban and contemporary dance to create athletic work that uses the body language of the millennial generation. They make no exception in Vital Few, inspiring themselves from break dancing that blends seamlessly with the dancers’ more formal dance training.
Spring is always an exciting time. All the big companies reveal their upcoming season, filling us with anticipation for the year to come. This year, the Grands Ballets’ season launch goes beyond the usual excitement of revealing the shows that will fill our cultural calendars for 2016-2017. They have not one, not two, but a whole slew of news and events that really up the ante. Tuesday night at the Theatre Maisonneuve dancers, fans, and media all gathered to finally get the answers to our burning questions: what shows can we look forward to? When will the Wilder building be ready? And, the real nail biter, who will be appointed as the new artistic director?
It felt like the beginning of the end as I took my seat for what is sure to be one of the last times at the Agora de la danse. I’ve often said it is one of my favourite venues in this city. It has the ability to transform from bright, open classroom with windows that give views all the way to the mountain, to intimate, floor-seating only theatre, to grand space with high ceilings and a steep slope of seats to match. Soon the Agora will be moving into the newly constructed Wilder dance building. Until then, the countdown begins. Opening the new year this week at the Agora is an interdisciplinary work by Isabelle Van Grimde, Symphonie 5.1.
Just as I was thinking that I wasn’t going to try to understand what I had just seen, I overheard the girls in the row behind me:
– “J’ai pas compris.”
– “Mais ce n’est pas une affaire de comprendre, mais d’interpréter…”
So I guess I wasn’t alone in not quite grasping all the little and big messages hidden within George Stamos’ piece. And I have to agree with the second girl, sometimes it isn’t always about understanding, but interpreting our own experience of a show. On this night, it was George Stamos’ piece Situations that had us searching for meaning. Presented at the Agora de la danse from September 30 to October 2, it questions conventional definitions of masculinity and proposes we drop simplistic gender stereotypes in favour of something a little more open-minded, something a little more of our time. And who better than Stamos, a unique breed of man in his own right, to fuel this discussion.