by Kathleen Smith

Éric Gauthier brought nine dancers from his 14-member company home to Quebec for the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur this summer. Born in Montreal, trained at the National Ballet School in Toronto, Gauthier has spent most of his adult life in Stuttgart, Germany, becoming a soloist at Stuttgart Ballet and, in 2007, founding his own company, Gauthier Danse/Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart.

The two-hour show, featuring a whopping nine works by disparate international choreographers, opened with Gauthier’s own Ballet 101. The work humorously proposes a classical ballet vocabulary consisting of 101 positions: no. 25 is a full front split, no. 80 is a dying swan pose, and so on.

A dancer — Maurus Gauthier (no relation to Éric) — is directed by a disembodied voice who puts him through his paces once, then a second time at accelerated speed, and then once more in a random sequence. The audience understands that this is a ruse — Gauthier isn’t actually following directions — but it’s entertaining nonetheless. And it does, if gently, provoke a new way of looking at choreographed movement.

Swedish star Johan Inger’s duet Now and Now was performed by Anna Süheyla Harms and Florian Lochner. The work is an inventive expression of love, from first cataclysmic recognition through periods of tenderness and tension to, for whatever reason, its loss. I found the connection between the dancers truthful and Inger’s scenographic choices uniquely effective. In one beautiful sequence, the lovers crawl over each other’s bodies in a wide, circular progression on the ground. With each pass, more of their clothes come off. The lights flicker. The mood becomes melancholy — and when the pair gets dressed again, it’s in each other’s clothes. As the lights went down on the work’s poignant final image of Lochner on his knees, moving as if he still holds his partner in his arms, I found myself in raptures, and anticipating the exponentially more exciting and challenging works that were doubtlessly on the program ahead.

That feeling held all the way through Alejandro Cerrudo’s delightful Pacopepepluto, which so perfectly suited the Gauthier company’s golden men. Set to songs by crooner Dean Martin, the work is a barrage of expansive leaps, runs and jumps, danced with great virtuosity by Luke Prunty, Lochner and Juliano Nunes. Sassy and exhilarating, with a slightly ironic tone inspired by some very goofy lyrics (“when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” for example), Pacopepepluto is a showstopper.

And yet the program continued. I had problems with almost all the works that followed, including Itzik Galili’s Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, an athletic duet for Anneleen Dedroog and Rosario Guerra. Laced with mugging and slapstick humour, it tells a high-energy story of vamp meets nerd. Sadly, that’s all you need to know to imagine the dance.

Cayetano Soto’s group dance Malasangre is a dark homage to Cuban singer La Lupe, whose familiar singing (especially of Guantanamera) comprises the score. On a stage littered with black silk butterflies, eight performers dressed in skirts and knee socks dance angrily together and in pairs; at times, it felt like Soto was straining to match the songs with non-stop frenzied movement.

After intermission, Alexander Ekman’s duet, Two Become Three, was clever enough, but by this point, I was weary of the evening’s reliance on the push me/pull me sexual dynamic that typifies so much of the humour in dance — you know, the bum-slapping, jolly leering and pushing around meant to symbolize the reductively so-called “battle of the sexes.” It’s irritating to watch when you know that the artists going through these motions are capable of much more subtle representations of inter-personal relations. If that’s curmudgeonly of me, so be it.

Floating Flower, by Taiwan’s Po-Cheng Tsai, relied on a billowing white skirt costume and an exceptionally strong hidden partner to send Garazi Perez Oloriz wafting about the stage. In the work’s second half, Maurus Gauthier, also clad in a long white skirt, becomes visible and they have some lovely moments together. It’s all very sweet and highlights the fluid movement quality of this pair, but it’s also fairly unsubstantial.

Marco Goecke’s I Found a Fox is another slight work, a brief solo performed by Guerra. Its use of Kate Bush’s Suspended in Gaffa is apt; like the song, all creativity here veers to the whimsical and surreal. To what end remains unclear: for all the fun of Guerra’s “foxy” movement, the action doesn’t take us anywhere.

The final offering of the night was Hans van Manen’s celebratory ensemble work, Black Cake, originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater’s 30th anniversary in 1989, but in the repertoire of ballet and contemporary companies around the world since then. Its ubiquity is understandable, because this piece just works, using forms such as tango and waltz married to a more balletic vocabulary. The party devolves as the participants fall out of their proper ballroom holds and get tipsy, but it’s all done with elegance and wit. It was a satisfying end to a somewhat lightweight evening of dance from a truly spectacular company.


Luke Prunty in Alejandro Cerrudo's Pacopepepluto | Photo: Regina Brocke
Luke Prunty in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Pacopepepluto | Photo: Regina Brocke