Eric Gauthier might have waited 30 years before returning to the Southam Hall stage at National Arts Centre, but the debut of his troupe from Stuttgart, Germany was well worth the wait.
Gauthier, a 40 year old, ex-pat Montrealer, took the unusual and refreshing step of personally introducing the night’s program to a nearly full Southam Hall Saturday night, breaking through the barrier of the stage that often sets performer apart from patron.
Wielding a gentle sense of humour, Gauthier outlined the night’s five dances which represented the kind of range of which his 10-year old company is possible.
Gauthier’s irreverent approach was on full view in the opener of the night, his own piece called Ballet 101. This was a witty skewering of classical ballet from the very basics of the art, the five principal positions every student must learn.
The ‘pas de deux’ of a man dressed in a white T-shirt and very short black shorts and black socks and the woman in black top, tutu and tights, rolled through a series of 102 moves dictated by a metronomic voice over puppet master that accelerated into a chaotic and humorous intensity that culminated in loud laughter from the audience. Guffaws in a modern dance performance? Please sir, can I have some more.
Next up was Now and Now, an emotional, erotic and poignant duet about the arc of a love relationship by the Swedish choreographer Johan Inger.
This piece was full of emotion as the couple meet, grow fonder of each, consummate their affair and then gradually fall apart. in the end they are still together but the cycle of the relationship was fully revealed. It also managed to capture how the balance of power between the two shifts over time as the woman and man changed clothing and roles in the partnership.
Humour returned with a piece called Pacopepepluto by the American choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. The piece apparently was sparked after the choreographer observed his neighbour, oblivious to the world, dancing naked to a song by Dean Martin, the wine soaked crooner and member of the famous Rat Pack that moved together across the 1950s and 60s cultural landscape of America. In this piece three songs by Martin were each accompanied by a nearly nude, well-muscled male dancer seemingly on his own and oblivious to the audience.
The final piece of the first half of the show was a flowing stream of consciousness called, what else, Stream which emphasized the ability of the entire company of 16’s ability to work together in a flowing, tumbling, intricate meshing of duets, quartets and ensemble work that culminated in a pyramid of bodies.
The second half of the night was devoted to one work Cantata by the Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti.
In the hand of Gauthier Dance this piece, which evokes life in a small Italian village, was by turns earthy, smelly, sweaty, bitchy, profane, pugnacious and joyous. It was accompanied by the wonderful singing, and accordion playing, of four women who make up the Gruppo Musicale Assurd and have been, for many years, performing with this work live on stage. The live music really took the work to another level. The women engaged with the dancers as they portrayed the daily lives of the village.
For Gauthier Dance it was a glorious premiere at the NAC. It is to be hoped they’ll return soon.