There’s something undeniably special about watching dance set to live music. It’s like a conversation that takes place between the musicians and the dancers, and as an audience you have the ticketed privilege of eavesdropping to your heart’s content. Whether it is a full orchestra at the ballet, or a percussionist in a contemporary piece, I feel the same frisson during that moment when the musicians take their seats and the dancers emerge into the spotlight.
D’après une histoire vraie, presented as part of the Festival TransAmériques, is a fascinating gem of a piece featuring two rock drummers that are perched upstage right for the duration of the performance, and eight male dancers dressed in muted shades of grey and blue. Their interchange throughout our 70 minutes together in Théâtre Jean-Duceppe was illuminating, thought-provoking and richly textured.
First, a little background: the starting point for the piece came about some ten years ago when the French choreographer, Christian Rizzo, was “seriously bored” at a contemporary dance festival in Turkey. He came across a short folk dance and was immediately seized by something archaic and poignant. But instead of simply reworking the Turkish folk dance, Rizzo went deeper and began researching dance vocabulary from the Middle East, the Maghreb, France and Spain, finding their common movements and effects and tying them all into one package.
The inclusion of the two drummers in the creation of D’après une histoire vraie – Didier Ambact (a big name in the French metal scene) and King Q4 – was a stroke of genius, and allowed the dancers to improvise and riff off them, coming up with phrasing that either works in harmony or in syncopated friction with the musicians. The effect is marvellous, as we shall discover.
The first dancer entered stage right as the house lights were still up and the buzz and chatter of the festivaliers was thick in the air. He removed his shoes and began by kneeling, almost as if in prayer or meditation. Another dancer entered and they worked in slow unison, executing deep lunges and expansive armwork. The floor patterns began to emerge as more dancers joined the pair, culminating in slow whirling dervishes and pairings with arms slung over each other’s shoulders.
The movements turned mildly erotic; not overt, but as though the dancers are shimmering with latent sexual energy. At this point too, the partnering became more interesting; two long-haired bearded types turn out a series of spidery developés with intertwined hands and legs, while two more dancers give us handheld sinewy turns. The choreographer stated that he wanted to explore male-to-male relations beyond rivalry, a fighting spirit or homosexuality. He achieved this, but managed to touch on all three of these relationships as well.
An epic drum solo (or technically, drum duet?) follows this as the stage empties, and the two musicians give a balls-out performance that left the audience whooping. Following this, the dancers once again take to the floor, and in the silence left behind we can hear only the silken whisperings of their feet on the tarkett flooring. It’s a lovely contrast, and the choreography gives us the space to see each individual dancer’s qualities in sharper definition.
Whilst each of the eight dancers are excellent, there are three in particular that deserve to be singled out. Fabien Almakiewicz had a wonderful sense of attack, commitment, and metal-style head-banging. Kerem Galebek exhibited enormous care, airiness and precision of his porte bras. My eye was drawn to him throughout as he gave the piece its backbone and true character. Filipe Lourenco had a remarkable solo in the second half of the show, and I loved his idiosyncratically fluid movement quality.
The rebuilding of the choreographic momentum following the drum solo took very little time at all, and soon the dancers were repeating a simple stepping phrase in an endless array of patterns, groupings and iterations. The intensity mounted for the drummers and the dancers, and the audience was taken to an almost climactic end. They gave the show a standing ovation, and I am not surprised at all.
Christian Rizzo has succeeded; there is indeed something archaic and poignant about D’après une histoire vraie. But more than this, he has created a vernacular that is at once singular, universal, and thoroughly contemporary. Bravo.
D’après une histoire vraie was presented May 30 and 31 at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. The Festival TransAmériques (FTA) continues until June 7, info and tickets here.
Rebecca Galloway is a writer and PR consultant for arts and culture clients.