As part of the 20th anniversary of Festival Quartiers Danse, Malandain Ballet Biarritz staged Nocturnes at the Wilder Building’s Studio-Theatre. Intrigued by the darker side of Chopin’s music, company founder/choreographer Thierry Malandain moved his dancers along a narrow strip amid a pervasive gloom, an arrangement that, according to program notes, recalled medieval “funeral dances.” To me, the work’s duets and trios, which featured many leg extensions and balletic skill, showed people aching for romance, finding and then losing love because of rivalry or caprice.
The double bill also featured Reset, a compelling duet by Montrealer Véronique Giasson. To a gently rumbling soundscape, Laurent Le Gall made simple arm movements that partner Giasson repeated. Soon the gestures gained amplitude, the strict parallelism waned, and the two moved about freely. Joining together, the pair wove intricate body shapes followed by a return to less tense parallel moves. This dramatic pattern repeated throughout the piece, which brightened toward the end at a piano’s tinkling. Methodically the pair returned to their opening side-by-side stance, ready to “reset.”
In the festival’s closing anniversary show — another double bill at the Studio-Theatre — Dirt, by Montreal’s Tentacle Tribe, again showed the urban-dance-inspired prowess of its three male and one female dancers. The movement flowed relentlessly in complex body-to-body choreography requiring the most acute sense of one’s centre of gravity. This was especially true in a tightly woven duet in which choreographer Elon Höglund and Amara Barner repeatedly rolled over and under each other, creating an intimate meeting of equals. Höglund inserted more acrobatic moves than in past works, generating audience gasps, as when he executed a full flip at speed while staying true to the subtle rhythmic soundscape.
The bill’s opening piece was by Montrealer Pauline Gervais for Pauline Berndsen Danse, a contemporary group she founded in 2018. In MMXX, five dancers in black bodysuits initially moved stiffly like robots to pop music choruses, never touching. Eventually movements softened, physical contact was initiated, and relationships developed as Enrico Caruso sang an aria of romantic hope, Una furtiva lagrima. Then, rather pessimistically, everyone reverted to their primal robotic state. Why everyone moved from isolation to connectedness and back again was a key unanswered question.
Article by journalist Victor Swoboda, published on December 1st, 2022 for Dance International