Friday, May 10, 2024

New Sensations: Gauthier Dance Reinvigorates the Stage

Marie Chouinard in Le Chant du Cygne: Le Lac (from Swan Lakes). (Photo: Jeanette Bak)

Gauthier Dance//Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart recently made its Toronto debut as part of the 2023/24 Torque season of contemporary dance at Harbourfront Centre. The April 18 opener marked a brilliant homecoming for artistic director Eric Gauthier, a former National Ballet of Canada dancer – originally from Montreal – who spent years as a soloist with the Stuttgart Ballet under the direction of fellow Canadian Reid Anderson. Now 47, Gauthier transitioned into choreography before founding the company that bears his name in 2007. And that company is a delight – jaunty, versatile armed with a sense of humour, and charismatic. The 16 multinational dancers effortlessly connect with the audience, shattering the fourth wall with ease especially when (as happened in Toronto) they invite spectators to join them on stage for an immersive experience of shared joy and movement.

That movement can be broadly defined. While Gauthier Dance specializes in contemporary dance, its repertoire encompasses street dance styles, acrobatics, classical ballet, and improvisation. The company is also proficient in Gaga, an invigorating loose-limbed body language developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, director of the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, who is well represented in the program.

Spanning two hours, it began with a pair of works from Gauthier's ongoing Swan Lakes project, involving commissioned works by contemporary choreographers that reimagine the original ballet classic. One of these was a world premiere by fellow Montrealer Marie Chouinard, entitled Le Chant du Cygne: Le Lac (loosely translated as Lakeside Swan Song). This intensely original work parodied the white swan trope in classical dance, presenting the all-female cast in short starched white tutus, platinum blonde fright wigs, and lethal pointe shoes worn on one foot only, with the other pointe shoe transformed into a beaked glove that pecked and jabbed. The starkly arresting imagery foreshadows the pointed messaging at the work’s core. Le Chant du Cygne doesn't just satirize Swan Lake; it critiques the underlying misogynistic tendencies of ballet itself.

The art form often portrays female protagonists enduring abuse or oppression, reflecting a historical narrative that Chouinard's Swan Lake cleverly reevaluates. Her work aims to give voice and agency to its all-female cast, beginning with vulnerable, animal-like movements and culminating in a powerful vocalized protest against rape culture, victim blaming, and the objectification of women’s bodies. Despite its ferocity, Chouinard's empowering choreography maintains a balanced tone, blending forceful physical expression with wry humour and visual dynamism. 

Hofesh Shechter's Swan Cake. (Photo: Jeanette Bak)

An impactful work of dance, Le Chant du Cygne provided a compelling contrast to Hofesh Shechter's take on Swan Lake, humorously entitled Swan Cake, which examines the herd mentality of crowds. Shechter presents his theme as a vibrant and joyfully seductive group dance inspired by club culture, raves, and Israeli folk dance. The dancers, dressed in a motley variety of everyday thrift store clothing styles that capture their individual personalities, exude a youthful and lively vibe that seductively draws the audience in. Shechter's propulsive multilayered electronic score and eclectic costumes, along with the jaw-dropping diagonal lighting design he created in conjunction with Mario Daszenies, injects colour and verve into their energized performance.

Influenced by Gaga, the stylized movement connects dancers to their senses through spontaneous full-body explorations that here include arms that subtly evoke the undulating wings of swans in flight, a familiar classical ballet motif. Shechter just as suggestively mash-ups Tchaikovsky’s original Swan Lake score, weaving recognizable musical motifs into his looping soundtrack to inspire new sensations.

Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. (Photo: Jeanette Bak)

The full Gaga experience followed in the program's second half with Naharin's acclaimed Minus 16, created in 1999, which uses the Gaga technique to invigorate the dance experience with imaginative approaches and ideas. The piece begins unexpectedly during intermission, with a solo dancer captivating the audience's attention before an extended group of dancers joins in for exhilarating rounds of Gaga chair dancing.

Dressed in black-and-white suiting reminiscent of the Hasidim, the dancers perform to their own shouted words from the Passover Haggadah, creating a powerful and defiant atmosphere that is resolutely Jewish. In light of current world events, this theme has become a subject of controversy, as evidenced by the recent decision of Ballet Ireland which in March announced the removal of Naharin's Minus 16 from its upcoming schedule in response to local protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza. Thankfully, Toronto avoided mixing politics and art, allowing Minus 16 to be performed as planned and to a sustained – and much deserved – standing ovation for Gauthier Dance.

– Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer on staff at The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1985 to 2017. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she is a two-time recipient (2020 and 2014) of Canada’s Nathan Cohen Prize for outstanding critical writing. In 2017, she joined York University as Editor of the award-winning The York University Magazine where she is also the publication’s principal writer. In 2023, she published her latest book, Fashioning The Beatles: The Looks That Shook The World.



No comments:

Post a Comment