CANADA DANCE FESTIVAL: Compagnie de danse Martin Bélanger/Production LAPS – “Grande Théorie Unifée”

Montreal’s Martin Bélanger is a philosopher of dance – by that I mean, his multidimensional works deal with cosmic topics. He likes the big picture.

Grande Théorie Unifée, a work he created last year for Festival TransAmériques, is a case in point. By the time that the rambling 90 minute piece is over, Bélanger and cohorts have addressed and/or raised more issues than a course in Philosophy 101. On one hand, there are some delicious moments that satirize the foibles of humankind. On the other, the piece is like the Big Bang Theory – out of chaos comes an emerging universe – ordered if messy.

The leit motif, such as it is, is physical attachment, which stands as a metaphor for everything. At many different points in the piece, the six dancers attach themselves to each other in inventive, and sometimes unseemly ways. They try to move as if this cumbersome group were a unified object. They change their positions and create frozen architectural tableaux. They can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Thus, at the heart of Grande Théorie Unifée is that we are a unified community of human animals that can be both destructive and constructive.

The piece begins with the six dancers – all of them charismatic (Katie Ewald, Claudia Fancello, Anne LeBeau, Peter Trosztmer, Stephen Thompson and Bélanger) – as cheerleaders wearing red jackets with their names on the back. They are the rallying cry for the human race, but they speak in bafflegab – nonsense phrases where some real words emerge (like Stephen Harper-poo-poo). Thus the tone is set where reality and absurdity live side by side as the human condition.

My absolute favourite section occurs part way through the piece where two dancers act as colour commentators mimicking the voice-overs at a figure skating competition. In this LOL section, dancers perform stupid, juvenile, circus-like tricks involving a rope suspended from the ceiling, a giant medicine ball, and an individual trampoline that represent, presumably, both competition and failure. The dancers take turns as the voices, rhyming off absolutely hilarious, pretentious language describing the tricks in the most outrageous, high-falutin’ fashion with an insider’s mix of personal information. The dialogue is priceless in its razor-sharp satire.

There are poignant (and symbolic) sections like “The Blind Dance” where Ewald performs a solo wearing a blindfold, and it is the responsibility of the group to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself by bumping into anything. At the same time, the outer five begin to imitate her movements and it becomes a group dance. The blind leading the blind? Fancello gives a rant about people working together. “We can do this! We can make a difference!” she declaims. On the other hand, Ewald’s later tirade is about being tired of dance experimentation (read the arts). What’s important in the world is money, power, sex, style and mojo – an interesting combination of words – as she extols Darwin and the survival of the fittest.

The ending is one giant mess of gender-bending dress-up that completely disguises the dancers. “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!” croons singer/performance artist Julie Andrée T. The droll Mlle. T both begins and ends the piece with her guitar playing and seemingly improvised songs. Also very visible as part of the work are sound artist Jean-Sébastian Durocher and lighting maven Jean Jauvin.

Like all things coming out of Montreal recently, the piece is too long. Admittedly, it did lose me somewhere in the middle where development seemed to stagnate into self-absorption. In Bélanger’s defence, although his vision results in a big, cumbersome, cluttered piece, it is never muddled. There always seems to be a purpose behind the unfolding vignettes.

Whether it is for all markets, however, is another thing entirely. Some would dismiss the sprawling Grande Théorie Unifée out of hand as being Canajunk (the “Made in Canada” equivalent of Eurotrash).

Martin Bélanger/Production LAPS
Grande Théorie Unifée
Choreography and concept by Martin Bélanger
Performed by Katie Ewald, Claudia Fancello, Anne LeBeau, Peter Trosztmer, Stephen Thompson and Bélanger (with Julie-Andrée T., Jean-Sébastian Durocher and Jean Jauvin)
La Nouvelle Scene, Ottawa, Jun. 5, 2010