Festival de Nouvelle Danse both violent and inventive

As the Festival International de Nouvelle Danse finishes this weekend, Montrealers will have had 10 days of looking at what happens after modern dance. They may have been shaken by the violence or thrilled by the inventiveness of post-modern companies from around the world. But watching the works of four local choreographers last weekend, a visitor could see why it's in this city in particular that such challenging and lively art has gathered.

Montreal dance companies at their best showed boundless inventiveness; at their worst, they got bogged down in electronics and violence. The dancers began to look familiar as the weekend went on. Modern-dance choreographers here don't maintain full-time companies, but space out their performances so the same dancers can work all year. This must be demanding, since three performances and a rehearsal for ``Stella,'' which opens tonight, showed four very different styles. The choreographers tackled serious

issues, unlike many from the United States, who tend to emphasize form rather than content. If the energy with which they did this verged on frenzy, their audiences seemed to keep pace with it.

In some works, dance was only part of the theatrics. Montanaro Danse performed Michael Montanaro's ``East of Egypt,'' which looked like a messy rock video and finished with a plaintive warning about arms and the world. On a smoke-filled stage, dancers did an appropriate ``scared'' walk -- all quaking legs and inquisitively raised elbows. They were surrounded by electronic instruments, microphones, TV screens, and, briefly, a life-size inflatable camel. As a voice complained that there was little time le ft to dream, revolvers appeared on some TV screens, the globe on others.

Fortier Danse Creation did even less dancing more stylishly in an excerpt from Paul-Andr'e Fortier's ``Chaleurs'' (``Heat''). A white set studded with paper rocks was inhabited by women in white-paper ball gowns that crackled as they stalked each other. Fanning themselves frantically or crawling alertly, they resembled insects in some new-wave horror movie, perhaps acting out inhumanity.

O Vertigo, an aptly named company, was violent in its inventiveness, but choreographer Ginette Laurin's attitude toward people was kindly and amused. In ``Crash Landing,'' Kenneth Gould and Louise Bedard, two excellent dancers, were zooming horizontally more often than standing up. Gould opened with a solo that seemed completely off balance, though he only took one fall. Bedard's flying, dynamic stumble took her in and out of Gould's arms. Once Gould lay on his back and Bedard just landed on him. He sho ok her off and she did it again. Sometimes they crashed into each other.

Especially in the grim context of the festival's opening days, they seemed harmless and affable. Through it all, they flashed the audience constant smiles, aping the feverish calm you sometimes see in magic shows. Both wore sturdy overalls, as if prepared for this sort of thing. There was something reassuring and oddly romantic in all this. This was a couple that had its figurative and literal ups and downs, presented with the choreographic equivalent of a cheery Gallic shrug.

Ginette Laurin attributes the breakneck pace -- and style -- of the choreography to her training as a gymnast before she took up ballet. Her work, she says, is ``not about philosophy or the end of the world. I am preoccupied more with relationships, which are harder now. I stop there.'' She concedes her choreography plays with risk, because ``life is risky.'' ``I show people not so strong,'' she says. ``It's the opposite of ballet. Instead of people jumping, we show people on the floor.''

But her work is not about man's downfall. ``I want to be very positive. I want to show the dark side of things, not in a negative way.'' How does she do that? By showing that ``life is still funny. We should laugh.''

``In Quebec, a lot of people do dance theater. I do dance,'' says Jean-Pierre Perreault, whose work ``Stella'' premi`eres tonight at the Place des Arts.

Perreault has performed and choreographed for 18 years, directing the Ottawa company Groupe de la Place Royale for 10 years. He's too young to be the grand old man of Montreal nouvelle danse, but he's a senior among these choreographers. He feels modern dance has become too cerebral. ``I don't think the audience should think that much about my work.'' It should be communicated through the body, he says, from the dancers to the audience. He said that while his last work, ``Joe,'' was being performed, `` I felt I could look at the backs of the audience and see how it went.'' If they were shifting around, they were responding to the movement on stage.

``Stella'' is a dance for 24 women in pumps and raincoats. The accompaniment will be the sound of all those pumps on the floor and the dancers breathing and singing, as well as some instrumentation.

Seen in a rehearsal studio without mikes, music, lighting, or sets, ``Stella'' was still impressive. Perreault, who stood out in yellow trousers and sweater among the dark-clad dancers and the black, pyramid-like ramps they must climb, explained that he was using all women because ``as soon as you have a man and a woman on stage, people say `love' and `jealousy,' '' while this work deals with humanity in a broader sense.

Shrouded in their gray raincoats and berets, the dancers looked both innocent and threatening. They drilled in formation and then broke apart for friskier dance steps or marched up and down ramps like the troops of a totalitarian government. Then a few would dash alone around the stage and suddenly seem to be one everyday woman rushing home in the rain -- who happened to have been multiplied by 24.

Massing and scattering, abandoning coats for black dresses and then reappearing in gray, they were like a moving sculpture.

Perreault describes himself as ``an artist who fell into dance.'' Even though he denies having any message, the images he made were evocative combined with the sound of the dancers' feet, pattering like water or stomping like storm troopers. Watching them, you could feel that you were looking at humanity, and that it was both overwhelming and touchingly vulnerable as it moved over the dance's landscape.

The choreographers' work varied wildly, but it all seemed to be concerned about humanity and its future. Whether these artists approach that future with fear or with joy, they're dancing fast.

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