Culture | Liberté, égalité… et la danse?

Dance series provides entry point into French culture

L’Agora de la Danse, one of Montreal’s contemporary dance centres, just stumbled upon a creative way to save you airfare in these precarious economic times. For the next two weeks you can go to l’Agora and see Destination Danse, an annual event intended to whisk the viewer away to a certain geographic region through that area’s contemporary dance. This year’s hotspot is France, the land of romance, belles-lettres, wine, and fine cheese – a stereotype that Destination Danse seeks to transcend in favour of presenting a fresher, lesser-known side of the country’s culture.

While popular shows like “So You Think You Can Dance?” have made dance more accessible, it can still seem daunting to those who, like myself, are largely unfamiliar with the artform. A friend recently related the story of how he’d burst out laughing in the middle of a professional dance performance and found himself unable to stop. He hadn’t found anything particularly funny – the solemnity of the piece had simply become too much for him. Perhaps the fear of experiencing something similar has kept me a stranger to contemporary dance thus far. But Destination Danse organizer Marie-Josée Beaudoin notes that this event is “entirely approachable” for first-timers, providing one with the opportunity to “discover something new.” The press release reads like a travel brochure, encouraging you to pack your suitcases for a cultural escapade.

The journey is composed of four works by four separate artists: “Matter” by Julie Nioche, “Press” by Pierre Rigal, “Le Cri” by Nacera Belaza, and “Abstraction+Gravité” by Fabrice Lambert. Beaudoin describes the pieces as “very different” from one another. “One is more emotional, another more intellectual, another acrobatic,” she says. Yet together “they form a portrait of France today.” The acrobatic piece – Rigal’s – explores the unfolding of an existential crisis; Beaudoin insists that, weighty subject matter aside, the show is a remarkable gymnastic display. Belaza’s “Le Cri” combines spirituality and sensuality, while Lambert’s performance uses illumination to reflect upon our collective human consciousness, and how it will drive us toward the future – I’m guessing that’s the intellectual piece. Nioche’s “Matter” is an homage to three women with whom the artist lived for three years, and has been praised for its outstanding visual beauty. The four works run consecutively each night, and can be viewed together or separately, though it seems like seeing just one would be missing out on the full experience.

“The performers are really a new generation of dancers in France,” Beaudoin explains. “French dance has traditionally been influenced by classical ballet, but the dance that has been emerging over the past couple of years has been freed from the constraints of classical technique. It involves a lot of mixing techniques and disciplines; it borrows from cinema.” Beaudoin’s passion for the art is quite evident, and entirely infectious. Her advice to newcomers is to “experience slowly, seeing a number of different approaches to discover what you like.” She believes that this event is a great place to start, and emphasizes its uniqueness. “It’s a kind of dance that we don’t usually get to see in Montreal,” Beaudoin says. “We often get big groups who have been doing this for 20 or 30 years, but rarely such young choreographers. That’s what makes it so special.”

Destination Danse: France offers you the opportunity to expand your horizons, through both its theme and through the art form itself. And even though school’s been in session for less than three weeks, who doesn’t already need a vacation?

Destination Danse: France runs through September 26. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 514-525-1500.

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