To those who have never experienced it, the Montreal contemporary dance scene can be unnerving and mystifying. A surprise was waiting for me in the cramped Bistro Arrêt de Bus, with a grassroots performance featuring up-and-coming dance choreographers Let’s Get it On! and Sens X. The performance by Let’s Get it On! – consisting of local choreographer and student at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Julia Barrette-Laperrière – intrigued me the most.
With no real notion of what to expect from an avant-garde performance (I pictured in my mind something embarrassingly futuristic), what shocked me was how different this was since the last time I watched a contemporary dance performance. Not only was the café-bar an unusual location for a dance show; the dancers literally wove among the audience members and jumped onto the bar. The piece showcased Barrette-Laperrière’s idea of stereotypical characters and situations that one might stumble upon in a typical trendy bar or raucous club. For the most part, her piece revolved seductively around the themes of sex and sexual identity. During the piece the audience witnessed girls dancing promiscuously in a club and the “hypersexualization” of the female body as a piece of “meat.”
Not only is a bar a good starting point for choreographers looking to make a reputation, but the highly intimate setting and dim mood lighting facilitated the theme. Barrette-Laperrière argued the venue was entirely conducive for the storyline of her dance, adapted from its original design for a stage. The theatrical movements of the dancers resembled acting from a movie or play more than traditional contemporary dance.
If there was a weakness to the performance, however, it was that the dizzying plethora of stereotypes and sexual parodies were presented in an overwhelming flurry of imagery. Barrette-Lapperrière remarked, however, that this was the whole point: seduction happens too rapidly and superficially these days. She explained that she likes to “use the voice, like in theatre,” to tell a story through her piece, but at the same time, to explore a theme highly relevant to young people today.
As a young non-dancer, I think it is crucial to recognize that local contemporary dance, especially from young choreographers, is evolving to match present social concerns. Some of Barrette-Laperrière’s other choreographies highlight the subjects of death, physical disabilities, and euthanasia, and have stylistic roots in tango, “waacking” (an increasingly popular type of urban dance), and pole dancing.
Barrette-Laperrière’s personal story is worthy of mention. A student, she also holds down a job and choreographs multiple pieces, the one at Bistro Arrêt de Bus being her first group piece. Unlike most dancers, she started her career only at 18, and therefore she admits that traditional contemporary dance doesn’t interest her, as she doesn’t have the time to perfect her technique. She finds the hardest aspects of being a young choreographer are limited funding and the intense competition in a city flourishing with young, innovative dance artists. The only help she receives is the money raised at pay-what-you-can nights like these, as well as an organization at UQAM called Passerelle 840, which provides dance spaces for the use of students and post-graduate artists.
Even as one of the only anglophones in a francophone-filled bar in Montreal, I couldn’t help but think of Barrette-Laperrière’s theatrical style of choreography as a method of eliminating the language divide in Montreal, which Barrette-Laperrière says seems so apparent at her shows today. Perhaps the reason I myself never expressed a genuine enthusiasm for contemporary dance before was that many of its idealistic themes never resonated with my modern day experience. Let’s Get it On! communicated a contemporary social problem across language barriers to even those less educated in the realm of dance.