When the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur was founded in this Laurentian resort town north of Montreal in 1992, its broad mandate was to showcase high-profile Canadian and international dance, with one or two music events thrown in for spice. But what really sets the festival apart is that it offers the chance to see some brilliant young dancers who rarely perform in this country.
The opening weekend’s glittering ballet gala, titled Spectacle International, starred dancers from the American Ballet Theatre (Herman Cornejo and Luciana Paris), National Ballet of Canada (Greta Hodgkinson and Etienne Lavigne), Paris Opera Ballet (Benjamin Pech and Alice Renavand) and Royal Danish Ballet (Andreas Kass and Ida Praetorius, last year’s Erik Bruhn prize-winners).
Also featured were Quebec artists Louise Lecavalier, Keir Knight and Patrick Lamothe, performing choreography by Edouard Lock, and 16-year-old Montrealer Cesar Corrales, who starred in the Broadway smash hit musical Billy Elliot. Thankfully, Russian imperial style was banished in favour of contemporary ballet choreographers. Only the über-talented young Corrales performed pieces by Russians (Petipa and Gorsky), and, of course, he brought the house down with his virtuoso solos.
Works by Antony Tudor, Twyla Tharp and James Kudelka drew out interpretation and expression beyond mere technique.
The Danish pair presented the best contrast, performing an excerpt from John Neumeier’s Daphnis and Chloe, a lyrical paean to young love, and then Alessandro Sousa Pereira’s edgy punk ode to the dark side, called Traditional.
Lavigne is not a principal dancer. Hodgkinson and Lavigne, a married couple, rarely get to perform together, and it showed. Otherwise, the dancing in Spectacle was superb. My favourite? Pech and Renavand performing Le Rendez-vous by Roland Petit. The French choreographer can be a bit of a schlockmeister, but this duet about a young man’s dangerous encounter with an alluring siren is juicy and delicious.
The second program featured Ballet BC and included choreography by Medhi Walerski (Petite Cérémonie) and Ballet BC’s artistic director Emily Molnar (Aniel), with excerpts from works by William Forsythe (Herman Schmerman) and Nicolo Fonte (Muse). It was a program of decidedly edgy contemporary ballet.
Walerski, a dancer with Netherlands Dance Theatre, is starting to make a name for himself as a choreographer. Petite Cérémonie, an original piece he created for Ballet BC in 2011, is a quirky mix of the dark and the light, performed in an intriguing movement style that embraces total body impulses. The music score is a clever mix of classical and Broadway.
Apparently, Walerski was inspired by the idea of “life in a box,” and there are 15 boxes on stage which the 15 dancers perform on, over and around. The dancers try to break out of their boxes, or get free from the herd mentality, to find meaningful connections with each other.
Molnar’s charming Aniel is set to avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn’s Book of Angels. Aniel was one of the seven Archangels, and the name means Joy of God. Linda Chow’s costumes are a shock of primary colours, and as in a child’s storybook, the dancers display wonder and innocence through whimsical movement that shimmies and shakes with the happiness of being alive.