Inspired Art of Movement from Montréal
December 20, 2021
Quebec has long been at the forefront of genre- and gravity-defying movement arts, which started to become internationally recognized with the phenomenal success of Cirque Du Soleil.
The 2022 PuSh Festival features two exceptional examples of the vibrant community in Montréal, LION LION and MAYDAY, both fronted by inspiring women with fascinating backgrounds in circus and dance. “Montréal is a vibrant and eclectic hub of movement”, says Claudel Doucet of LION LION. “With so many important art schools, enormous and tiny companies, festivals and venues, we are lucky to be nourished by such a vivid community”. MAYDAY’s Cloé Pluquet explains Montréal’s preeminence this way, “Montreal is definitely a formidable city for collectively questioning the fate of the world and of individuals. It is a place where the sacred and the profane rub shoulders, where the boundaries between the art forms are blurred and where discourse becomes a body.”
Thoughtfully mixing disciplines such as contemporary dance, circus, performance art and sound, neither of these companies fits easily into established forms. They are both willing to explore dark subject matter and use bold physicality to evoke emotions from the audience.
Out of a background in Cirque comes Claudel Doucet, who graduated from the National Circus School, and began her career as a contortionist and aerialist for Cirque du Soleil. She went on to numerous cabaret productions (GOP Varietes, Chämaleon), and toured with Circus Monti in Switzerland. She continues to perform, and collaborates as a director and dramaturge at the National Circus School, and with other academies across the world. Her creative approach is immersed in interdisciplinarity. As a subtle reaction to the massive productions circus is famous for, Doucet has put her focus on “a decreasing, intimist approach and far from conventional performance venues, creating tinkering and interdisciplinary works”. Explains Doucet, “Coming from the contemporary circus scene, where many projects are simply mammoth in size, we made Se prendre originally as a form of resistance, using downsizing as a way to reclaim our time, space and freedom as artists. We are thrilled to come to Vancouver and revive a show that we sure thought could never be presented again because of its format.”
Mélanie Demers, the founder and artistic director of MAYDAY, just received The Grand Prix de la Danse de Montréal, which is awarded to dance artists (individual, group or dance company) to honour an exceptional contribution to the artform. Demers transitioned off of the stage to create her own choreography in 2007, with the intention to create work that would express deeper politics and meaning. She has become well-known for her interdisciplinary style and her quite radical use of diverse bodies on stage. She explained to the Georgia Straight in 2017, “I’m kind of known for having diversity in terms of the body, language, skin colour, culture. That’s part of the microcosm I like to create on-stage. How can we be together if we’re not the same? We’re trying to invent a kind of unison on-stage.”
In her professional journey she has brought her practice to places from Africa to Haiti and South America, teaching and working in dance. Experiencing the different realities for people around the globe has informed her choreography into work that is political and experimental, with dark comic undertones, mixing theatre and sound into a genre all her own.
In a personal essay for Understory, Demers says, “The beauty of being a choreographer is that your art is being expressed through other bodies, souls, flesh and bones. These people come into your work with their stories, their history, their mythology, their personal ambitions, desires and perspectives. Therefore, the intentions of a work (or a career) are not only yours. It becomes a collection of intentions”.
“Montreal is a place of all possibilities”, Says Pluquet, “where everyone can explore new forms of expression and show them to an audience, be it big or small”. In January and February, Vancouver will be fortunate to host two exhilarating and stimulating shows from these influential Montréal artists, Se prendre by LION LION, and La Goddam Voie Lactée by MAYDAY, featuring themes that are now more important than ever. “It will be powerful to meet back with our piece that addresses proximity, intimacy and trust and is presented in a domestic space,” says Doucet. “These themes take a radically new sense now”.
Gabrielle Martin, PuSh Festival’s Director of Programming and member of the Collaborative Leadership Team, studied both dance and circus in Montréal, and shares her inside perspective on these two artists. “Both of these artists are risk-takers that exemplify the spirit of PuSh. I still remember Sauver sa peau, the first piece I saw of Melanie’s in 2008. It left its imprint on me as her work continues to do – not only on individuals, but on an entire milieu. Claudel is equally visionary, drawing from her circus training while allowing herself to be completely untethered by it. She describes Se prendre as starting off in resistance to the established circus codes – which is also what makes it distinctly Montréalais; it is born from an artistic ecology where circus is experiencing its own post-modern evolution. I am thrilled that audiences will be able to experience the work of these two influential artists at PuSh”.
Photo credit: Mathieu Doyon, Claudel Doucet