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A scene from "Bonanza"handout

Festival TransAmériques

  • Dance and Theatre
  • At various venues in Montreal

Without question, Montreal's Festival TransAmériques is the most significant international dance and theatre showcase in North America.

Mixing technology, film, dance and theatre, FTA has a unique mandate under artistic director Marie-Hélène Falcon: to bring together cutting-edge productions making waves at home and on the international circuit.

Berlin Collective (Berlin/Antwerp) - Bonanza

Judging by conversations I've had, this production is everyone's favourite thus far. The creators - Bart Baele, Yves Degryse and Caroline Rochlitz - take on cities, literally. They have devised shows on Jerusalem (2004), Iqaluit (2005) and Moscow (2009).

Bonanza (2006) is a dead mining town in Colorado. It has only seven permanent residents, but in the glory days of the gold rush, it boasted 36 saloons and upward of 25,000 people.

Berlin Collective crafts a different format for each city. For Bonanza, there is a large relief map showing various houses nestled in the mountains. Beneath the map are five video screens. On the stage are five projectors.

What is so utterly brilliant about Bonanza is how the creators have edited the films. For example, one resident is talking on one screen while the other four screens are showing what the neighbours are doing. As well, houses on the relief map have their own lighting according to which resident is talking.

One would think that with only seven people in town, Bonanza would be a close-knit community, but, in fact, the neighbours don't talk to each other. What they do enjoy is talking about each other. Not only that, there is a feud over the town council, which is made up of part-timers who come from Pueblo, a three-hour drive away.

The show starts off with the residents describing the paradise of Bonanza, and ends with their quarrels and a lawsuit. Under the cunning shaping of the material, we come to see that tiny Bonanza is a microcosm for the foibles of humanity as a whole.

Falk Richter (Berlin) and Anouk Van Dijk (Amsterdam) - Trust

This production tries to place a square peg in a round hole, and gets an "A" for effort. The performances are excellent, and the concept is intriguing, if not completely successful.

The central idea of this piece by writer-director Richter and choreographer van Dijk is to show that romances on shaky ground are very similar to the tenuousness of the world's financial situation. Monologues are interspersed with dance sequences of struggle, as these two parallel themes are carried forward. The set is massive, with an upper and lower gallery connected by ladders and strewn with living-room furniture.

The most clever aspect is that, by the end, texts from the financial side and the romantic side are merged together. But it seemed like a forced marriage between the two.

Martin Messier and Anne Thériault (Montreal) - Derrière Le Rideau, Il Fait Peut-Être Nuit

This unpredictable and wry show is part of a series of dances with various choreographers creating work with composer Messier.

Choreographer Thériault begins by putting on a blindfold, which puts her literally in the dark. Everything is electrified, and the noises Thériault makes are accompanied by Messier's cacophonous surround sound.

The heart of the piece has Thériault piercing a neon light tube with a series of knives, which leads to the surprise ending.

While the show was entertaining, it wasn't particularly original: Electrifying sets and people has been around for a long time.

Israel Galván (Seville) - El Final De Este Estado De Cosas, Redux

Sometimes a show is so bad that it's good. Galván is a formidable dancer, fusing flamenco and butoh, but his production borders on ludicrous pretension - which is the source of its fascination.

His focus is the Apocalypse, no less. Translated, the title means The End to the Way Things Are. Galván has surrounded himself with 15 musicians, singers and stagehands to pull off his inanities. He dances in sand, on a flimsy, raised platform, and in a coffin. At one point, he sports woman's breasts, but always is the proud, preening peacock.

Lia Rodrigues (Rio de Janeiro) - Pororoca

This show is tedium writ large. A pororoca is a huge, destructive tidal bore that roars up the Amazon River and while Rodrigues's choreography reflects the tidal energy, the piece itself never develops.

Rodrigues is an activist, and her dance studio is in a Rio de Janeiro slum. Her 10 dancers reflect that aesthetic of poverty and vibrancy. Performed in silence, they form and reform heaving clumps of humanity, while all doing their own thing. The piece feels endless.

Sylvain Émard (Montreal) - Le Continental XL

This piece doesn't belong with the ticketed events. It's FTA's site-specific dance set in Place des Festivals.

Émard uses 200 mostly amateur dancers, and has choreographed an upbeat, fun-filled line dance of interesting patterns. Even the fountains are choreographed into the piece.

Two hundred people dance their hearts out. What's not to like?

Festival TransAmériques continues in Montreal until June 11.