20 years of dancing metamorphosis

Journal Métro, September 2nd, 2022
The General and Artistic Director of Festival Quartiers Danses , Rafik Hubert Sabbagh. Photo: Courtesy of / Festival Quartiers Danses

From an event whose programming was considered ” bastard ” by some to a major festival celebrating the cultural diversity of Montreal, the Festival Quartiers Danses (formerly Transatlantique) has grown over the past two decades. From September 7 to 18, the 20th edition of Quartiers Danses continues the festival’s mission to democratize dance by presenting the works of nearly 50 choreographers in theatres and in the public square.  

At the turn of the year 2000, the founder of the festival, Rafik Hubert Sabbagh, then owner of a development and promotion agency for contemporary dance companies from here and elsewhere, organized what he called “dance manifestations” under the name Transatlantique. 

I didn’t have the pretention to make a festival. Anyway, we didn’t have the money. Within my agency, I was doing offs [editor’s note: a show given on the fringe of an official program] with artists that I was defending” explains the general and artistic director of the Festival Quartiers Danses in an interview with Métro. 

Montreal’s Maisons de la culture were the first venues for Transatlantique’s artistic events. 

In 2005, Pierre Larivière, the cultural agent of the Maison de la culture Maisonneuve and founder of several festivals in Montreal, offered Rafik Hubert Sabbagh a three-year contract to create an annual event in several locations in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough, including the public place.  

Dancing in an urban context

From that moment on, always in a desire to democratize art, Rafik Hubert Sabbagh brings dance to the streets of Montreal, recognized today as “one of the dance capitals“.  

In Canada, we are the specialists in urban dance.

Rafik Hubert Sabbagh, DG of Festival Quartiers Danses

Whether at the Place des festivals, Émilie-Gamelin Park, Bassin-à-Gravier Park in Griffintown, the Esplanade de la Place Ville Marie or around the Lachine Canal, the Festival Quartiers Danses offers this year close to 60 outdoor performances over 12 days.  

The festival puts forward accessible dance. It doesn’t mean cheesy dance, but the average person who comes to see a show for the first time will leave having felt or understood something” says Sabbagh.  

While he likes to get out of the inner city, the executive and artistic director of the Festival Quartiers Danses always favors places where there is traffic. “It’s always in places where there are people. We don’t do shows for dancers and choreographers where there are two cats and three mice” he says.  

In 2009, Transatlantique became the Festival Quartiers Danses (FQD). Since it didn’t have enough money to advertise indoor shows at the time, the festival was mostly known for its urban shows and performances, explains Rafik Hubert Sabbagh.  

People knew us, but thought we were just a street festival. Little by little, these people discovered that we were an indoor festival,” he says. […] We demystified dance to draw people in, so that they would come to theaters as well.”