The Last Waltz

THERE'S A FAIR amount of aesthetic myopia on the contemporary-dance front this year, judging from Montreal's International Festival of New Dance, one of North America's favorite locales for artist-producer-critic toe-sucking. In previous years, this superbly organized biennial festival has been looked upon as something of a harbinger. Dance companies invited to perform at this edition of FIND (the Francophone acronym for Festival International de Nouvelle Danse) were generally well-established rule benders like Belgium's Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez, Canada's La La La Human Steps or Ballet Frankfurt--companies with something to say and new ways of saying it. This year, I am sad to report, has mostly witnessed new ways of saying nothing at all.

The spotlight at FIND was cast on the Iberian peninsula and the ostensibly exploding dance/performance scenes of Madrid, Lisbon, and other major cities in Portugal and Spain. Portugal's Companhia Vera Mantero doodled onstage for a full hour and a half, littering the floor with props (flowers, windup soldiers, change, sand, bonbons) in the absolutely dreadful The Fall of an Ego. Watching it (for the 40 minutes before I snuck out of theater) felt like sitting in front of a one-way mirror and observing a bunch of people attempting improvisation while stoned. Vera Mantero is a beautiful dancer, as she demonstrated a week later in a solo performance, but her problem, and indeed a common one among companies invited by FIND, is this: Whether they mostly dance, or mostly talk while manipulating mystifying props, these dancers fail to go anyplace other than their point of departure. And the fact is that of the 13 companies I saw at FIND, all but two indulgently, detachedly, self-importantly, earnestly--doodled in place.

Highest praise goes to Compagnie Pierre Droulers, a small, breathtaking group of performers from Brussels who ought to be better known on this side of the Atlantic. Their evening-length work De L'air et du Vent (Air and Wind) was proof that the simplest metaphors are often the best and that dance is only "deep" when it doesn't try to be. The five Droulers dancers, like many other dancers on the Belgian scene, are so speedy and agile on the ground that they appear fast-forwarded. One can only hope that FIND '97, in all its sluggish indulgence, will also have fast-forwarded by 1999.

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