Culture  Dancing outside the lines

Movement meets art in Montreal choreographer Lynda Gaudreau's new exhibit

What happens when performance and visual art meet? Montreal choreographer Lynda Gaudreau investigates this question with her new project “Out of Grace,” a hybrid performance-exhibition that combines visual art with dance.

Using Concordia’s bare Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery as her canvas and a small company of dancers as her paints, Gaudreau challenges modern preconceptions about visual art and pushes the boundary between performance and visual design. While static art such as painting, photography, and sculpture remains confined to walls and rooms, Gaudreau’s art leaps, runs, and crawls through five different rooms, each with their own distinct emotions and concepts expressed through choreography.

“It’s all about space,” said Gaudreau about her kinetic installation. In fact, the inspiration behind her choreography came directly from the gallery’s space itself. “I came to see the gallery, and I invented the choreography for each room after seeing its space.” While the dancers begin the performance in separate rooms, they constantly travel to other areas of the gallery as the performance progresses. The choreography itself, however, remains roughly the same in each room, giving each space its own personality and depth.

Five other visual artists were also asked by Gaudreau to contribute to the project, including Alexandre David, Jérôme Fortin, Aude Moreau, Chih-Chien Wang, and Yann Porcreau. Each artist created separate pieces in their respective fields of photography, sculpture, and film that either relates to or directly interacts with the choreography of the performers. This unique blend of mediums – wood, paint, film, and dance – successfully creates a synthesized expression of space in the context of visual art.

For example, in a room called Surfaces, photographer Yann Pocreau creates his own space for Gaudreau’s dancers to interpret, scattering a table, chairs, and lamps about the blank white room. Here Pocreau and Gaudreau explore the relationship between walls, where photographs are displayed, and the floor, where dancers perform their art. The dancers begin pressed against the stark blank wall, then gradually venture out to the floor, portraying both artists’ exploration into the other’s field. The overall effect is a sort of three-dimensional ever-changing still life. In a scene reminiscent of Francisco Goya’s The Nude Maja, a dancer elegantly reclines nude on a table in the center of a dark room. A solitary light from above gives the dancer’s figure that distinct contrast of shadow and light that is so intrinsic to black and white photography, and simultaneously creates a small, static space around the dancer similar to the intimate space that a portrait creates.

The unique blend of contrasting art forms truly forces viewers to re-examine the multiple dimensions of space. “It’s looking at how space is organized and constructed,” said Gaudreau of her project. “It’s asking: What is this? Is it a body? Is it an object? Or is it a piece of art?” These questions do not go unanswered: dancers sprawled on the floor, frozen in chaotic positions, resemble sculptures, while groups of performers leaping and twirling in unison in front of a vacant stretch of wall exactly mirror the reel of film in the next room depicting twirling aluminum cans against a similar bleak background.

Over the course its five week showing, “Out of Grace” will continue to transform as the artists expand their own pieces and in turn alter the space in which the dances take place. Incorporating the human element of dance unavoidably creates an evolving art form: individual pieces will develop each week, as the choreography adapts to the newly developed space. “Out of Grace” might be unique among exhibitions in that a return visit will give an entirely new performance.

“Out of Grace” is at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery (1400 Maisonneuve O.) until December 11. The performance runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily, performed twice with a short intermission in the middle – but the two-dimensional art can be viewed at any time.