The Festival Trans Ameriques, held recently in Montreal, was an eye-opener to the vital energies at play when the boundaries of artistic genres are pushed.

The fourth edition of the Festival Trans Amériques (FTA), the internationally renowned festival of contemporary dance and theatre, that ended recently, was an intelligent evaluation of today's innovative artistic expressions. This year's FTA (May 27-June 12) showcased performances from 17 cities and 12 countries. The opening performance was “Nearly 90”, the last choreography of Merce Cunningham, completed just three months before his death.

Originally conceived as the Festival de théâtre des Amériques, a festival of contemporary theatre, the festival started in 1985 as the brainchild of Marie-Hélène Falcon, now the director of FTA. In 2003, Falcon inaugurated the FTA as an international event combining dance, theatre and hybrid creations. FTA is now primarily devoted to avant-garde creations in dance and theatre.

Year by year the FTA has become more and more relevant on the global art scene, attracting about 30,000 spectators from the world over, including directors and presenters of other international festivals. The FTA shares the creative risk and has made an enormous contribution in promoting the strength and originality of new works on the international scene, adding to the cultural influence of Montreal and Quebec around the world.

Tough choices

Marie-Hélène Falcon believes, “‘Trans' stands for transcend, beyond disciplines, beyond frontiers, beyond generations, beyond languages and for openness.” This theory is discernible in the presentations at large. “The FTA conveys the richness of forms in the performing arts by constantly playing with the frontiers of different disciplines, dance, theatre, video art, performance and music and portraying contemporary creations of our time,” she adds.

Like most festivals, performances are held simultaneously at various venues. There were some tough moments as art aficionados had to make a choice between dance and theatre; between choreographers and countries. Against this backdrop, it is unfair to compare productions; yet it is more unjust if some of the creations are not highlighted as contemporary/innovative, unlike traditional forms, lack the narrative element and each member of the audience has to depend on his/her own interpretation.

For instance, “Nearly 90” by Merce Cunningham was a demanding performance with the choreographer's characteristic curves, musical backdrop, and his dealing with vertical time. Nevertheless, at some point, interrogating the harmony of group movements as a single unit was hard to accept for a segment of art lovers.

The concluding piece gave a completely different perspective; a solo performance “Miroku” by Tokyo-based choreographer-cum-dancer and visual artist Saburo Teshigawara. With a background in classical dance, Teshigawara gave a brief narration: “Mirokku' is the Buddha who will appear only once in the world is harmony, but for Saburo Teshigawara that harmony is never achieved”. The presence of Buddha/harmony, which according to the choreographer never appears/achieved, was, however, strongly felt when light magically appears on his hands and he continued to dance with it. The basic principle of ‘first, learn learn rule to break it' was evident from his enormous stage energy, well in harmony with everything: from movements to stillness and lights to the sets.

The two African performances dealt with hard political issues and deserve special mention. “More More More….Future”' choreographed as a dance-music ensemble by Faustin Linyekula highlighted the fate and spirit of people with the support of hybrid music and traditional rhythms particularly Ndombolo. It would have been more deeply felt had the duration of this 80-minutes piece had been limited to an hour. Towards the end it dragged a bit. “Sweating blood for a better future” was its highlight. English and French subtitles were displayed brilliantly.

“Poussieres de Sang” by Seydou Boro and Salia Sanou from Ouagadougou started by breaking a grave silence with a woman's low-pitched voice. This was an experience of the politics of violence and the power of the oppressed neatly expressed. There was a pregnant silence as the curtains came down and then a long standing ovation.

Powerful piece

“Artists represent the new visions of the world today. I happen to think that all art is political. From minimalist to thematic, detailed and highly wrought, artists make work that reflects their innermost or outermost thoughts, feelings, expressions — ways in which to tell their story or to comment on life. ‘Poussieres de Sang' has chosen an incredible group of artists to create a powerful piece reflecting war and its ravages in societies that he has witnessed. The choreography shows the execution of a movement vocabulary that could only be made and performed these highly skilled artists,” said Alicia Adams, Vice President, International Programming and Dance of The Kennedy Center Washington, DC.

Theatrically significant was the French trilogy “Littoral”, “Incendies” and “Forets” by Wajdi Mouawad based in both Paris and Montreal. It attracted an amazingly large crowd but the absence of sub-titles in English disappointed several members of the audience who did not understand French.

The festival targets the multilingual and replicates the rhythm and image of its home base, Montreal. “In an age where cultural and artistic mixing and the free flow of ideas are characteristic of the performing arts, the Festival Trans Amériques invites and accompanies artists and spectators to explore these intriguing mutations and myriad encounters,” adds Marie-Hélène Falcon.

For art aficionados and artistic communities in Montreal and across the world, the FTA is the occasion to celebrate, to see international creations and to interact with international guests; programmers, journalists and artists, a major get-together with enormous activity that unveils an exchange between artists and audience.

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