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In Montreal, young talents blossom at Quartiers Danses

Le Monde, September 16th, 2022

The festival, which runs until September 18, reveals a dynamic and diverse new generation of artists.

Mateo Picone Alexander Ellison, le duo créé par le chorégraphe Adrian Batt, au festival Quartiers Danses à Montréal, en août 2022.
Mateo Picone and Alexander Ellison, the duet created by the choroeographer Adrian Batt, at Festival Quartiers Danses in Montreal, in August 2022. PHAN HOI DO

The sound swings far. It is amplified by the ring of gleaming buildings in the Griffintown district. It’s a party in this historic industrial area that has been converted into a trendy residential zone in the southwest of Montreal for the past ten years. The Quartiers Danses festival turns up the volume on Sunday, September 11, to attract onlookers to its open-air stage. A square of grass, two pink and blue banners, backstage where you can put on makeup and laugh, and the show goes off into the grass.

Yellow, green, orange, a Bollywood pop bubble bursts, telescoping the muscular solo of a dancer in a little black dress and a pearl necklace. No time to breathe, a delicate embrace intertwines a man and a woman paralyzed from birth. For an hour, seven performances at the aesthetic antipodes add up with a common point: the majority of the interpreters are less than 25 years old and they are presenting for the majority their first piece.

This “discovery showcase”, much applauded by an attentive public, reflects the spirit of the event created twenty years ago by Rafik Hubert Sabbagh. Every day, from September 7 to 18, Quartiers Danses is held in ten locations, including Place des Arts, in the center of the city, and the Jardins Gamelin, where dozens of itinerants – the local word for homeless – will be concentrated. Contemporary, hip-hop, African, when I started in the poor areas of the city, they thought my programming was too hybrid,” laughs the general and artistic director. Today, people tell me I was visionary and it has become… inclusive!” He adds, “Above all, it is, outdoors and in theaters, accessible and resembles the people of Montreal with all cultures and colors.”

Outside and inside, from the periphery to the center, Quartiers Danses, which also takes place in the beautiful studio theater of Les Grands Ballets canadiens, has earned its stripes. Compared to institutions such as Usine C, which announces Jan Martens and Dimitris Papaioannou, or Danse Danse, which brings together Pina Bausch and Hofesh Shechter, it distinguishes itself by its urban roots and an eminently Montreal identity. “Both Francophone and Anglophone” says Rafik Hubert Sabbagh, who has 30 local companies and 9 international ones, including Malandain Ballet Biarritz.

Quebec’s leading figures

The festival’s appeal lies in its strong support for young dancers. Adrian Batt, 24, and Pauline Gervais, 25, both recent graduates of the École supérieure de ballet du Québec, made their debut there five years ago. On Sunday, September 11, the former created a very physical male duet all about lively turnarounds, entitled Stichomythie. “Expressing myself in the street, in the middle of people, makes dance more human and everyday, and really gives meaning to my work” enthuses the man who already has 7 short pieces to his credit. Ultraproductive also, Pauline Gervais, spotted in 2019 by Plateforme Danse, in Corsica, has signed 9 creations. “It goes fast for me and I am very lucky” she says. It is by choreographing that I learn what my job is and that I find my way.” Her MMXX quintet, a rapidly fragmenting ball of nerves, reveals a paradoxically fluid robotic gesture.

The new generation of dancers does not forget the leading figures in Quebec. “The history of dance and the intergenerational dialogue matter a lot to me” says the festival’s patron. From the same stock as stars Edouard Lock and Marie Chouinard, Louise Bédard, Prix de la danse de Montréal in 2018, proposed Odalisca, superbly interpreted by Scott McCabe. To music by John Cage, in a blue kilt, he hones a series of poses influenced by the languid women painted by Ingres and Delacroix. Also in solo, Charles Brécard, dressed all in black, tears himself away in a breathless spin. As for Samuel Tétreault, circus artist expert in hand balancing, co-founder and co-director of the famous Quebec troupe Les 7 Doigts de la main, he delivers in Geysers, the hectic self-portrait of a man questioning virtuosity.

According to Rafik Hubert Sabbagh, diversity necessarily involves the recognition of indigenous people. Before each performance, an announcement reminds us that the event is taking place “on unceded Tiohtiake territory, otherwise known as ‘Montreal’. It’s a way to respect the Aboriginal peoples here” explains choreographer Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo. The island of Montreal is referred to as the unceded territory of my nation, the Kanien’ keha:ka [Mohawks], who are the custodians.” Supported for the past four years by Quartiers Danses, she is also in charge of workshops with itinerants from her community. In parallel to her creations, at the crossroads of contemporary, hip-hop and traditional dances, she has directed in 2020, as part of the digital productions defended during the Covid-19 pandemic by Quartiers Danses, the film Smudge. It will be programmed in January 2023 at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Rennes, during the event Ciné-Corps.

« A springboard »

Touring abroad is one of the objectives of the festival. There are very few opportunities for artists in Quebec and Canada. “The Quartiers Danses Festival is a springboard for us” , says Andrea Peña, 30, whose name is beginning to circulate internationally. At the head of her company since 2014, she opened the Tanzmesse Internationale in Düsseldorf, a huge performance market, on August 31. Her striking piece, Untitled I and III, features two men and a bare-chested woman in flesh-colored thongs. She asserts a raw, athletic writing on the thread of a repetitive score of jumps, twists on the ground and rolls.

To celebrate this twentieth anniversary, some twenty presenters from Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Portugal, Austria, Iceland, the United Kingdom and the United States joined the ranks of the audience. “North American choreographers have always needed Europe to tour” says François Noël, director of the Théâtre de Nîmes. I like Quartiers Danses a lot because I make discoveries that we don’t see here, like Nicolas Zemmour, a former member of Angelin Preljocaj’s company, who is now based here. The Montreal choreographic scene is very rich, but what fascinates me the most is its youthful desire to express themselves and that is very good. “

Quartiers Danses, Montreal. Until September 18th.

Article by the journalist Rosita Boisseau, published on September 16th , 2022 for the newspaper Le Monde