NAC Dance: Taking risks with Paul-André Fortier

Paul-Andre Fortier. Photo: Sandrick Mathurin

Paul-André Fortier is a risk taker … always has been.

So the idea of doing a full-length solo dance project at age 70 with collaborators half his age, new music, an actor on stage and a text is just the sort of risk he takes.

This piece, called Solo 70, which will be at the NAC this week, will also mark the end of his company Fortier Danse-Création and of this kind of project.

“There are few things happening at the same time,” he said in an interview. Two years ago, my manager and I decided we would close the company in 2019. That’s a big thing. The company is almost 40 years old but we did discuss the situation at great length and we both felt it was time.

“At the same time, Solo 70 is the last production of the company. I have done solo works for almost 20 years among other things. To decide to do an ultimate dance for myself at 70 is quite unusual. I don’t know many men in the country are dancing professionally at 70.”

Fortier says he is fortunate to have the kind of body that can do it.

“I have always been able to handle the rigours of professional dance. Solo 70 is very demanding.”

Fortier took more risks with Solo 70. He surrounded himself with younger creators including the musician Jackie Gallant who plays live in Solo 70.

“She is playing her own compositions and she is also singing a couple of songs she wrote for the show. I am totally in tune with her.”

Then he added a playwright to the mix.

“I don’t know why but I felt I needed to use words. I am not an actor so I hired (Etienne Pilon) to be in the show. And I asked Etienne Lepage, who is pretty hot in Montreal, to write a script for the show.”

This is a collaboration of generations.  You have to make some compromises as well. They don’t see the world the same way that I do. It was an extremely rich collaboration. It generated a show that was quite special.

“They pushed me to a place I don’t think the audience will be expecting … into some choices I would not have made by myself.”

In addition he worked with the visual artist Marc Seguin, who is from Ottawa originally, to create the set.

“I did spoil myself with this final show.”

Fortier does like to work with visual artists.

“I find it very challenging. They have their own imagination. I try to work with people I do admire who push me. I dare ask them to collaborate with me. I find these collaborations extremely satisfying because you take enormous chances.”

He lives on the artistic edge.

“I like the edge because this makes you grow. If you just do what you know how to do, that’s not very exciting.

Solo 70 has been touring. It started in Paris, France and Montreal, and Vancouver. The NAC show is next and then it will visit Quebec City and the tour will end in Edmonton, Dec. 14 and 15.

“I will take a year off. I have some projects going forward, ideas that are cooking for performances in art galleries, that are more connected with visual art. I’m not stopping. As a creator, you create until you die. You can’t shut it down.”

He’s just bought a place in a small town called Cacouna near Riviere du Loup on the St. Lawrence River.

“I want to settle there and then begin to reorganize my career and creative life.

While Forter is not interested in the past, he is been part of a generation of dancers in Quebec who have made an indelible mark on the form.

But dance was not his first love. He was first a student of French literature.

“I did a Master’s in Literature at the University of Sherbrooke. I never completed my thesis but I found a job as a teacher. In my second year there, the phys-ed teacher said she was going to a dance workshop. I went with her.”

This was in the summer of 1972.

“I fell in love with dance and left teaching to become a choreographer and dancer. I just fell in love with the people. In workshop they asked me to wear tights, which was the most difficult thing to do. But I met people who were so extraordinary. It’s a world that spoke to me very strongly. I thought: ‘This is what I want to do’.” By 1978 he was presenting pieces on the same bill as Edouard Lock.

“Dance suited me. Contemporary dance was fairly new then and everything was possible.”

He says that literature does influence his thinking as a choreographer.

“I thought dance could be disturbing and challenging. I was used to be challenged by books. You read something and you are disturbed by what you read. It can put you in a place where you have to discuss and challenge yourself. I thought dance could do the same and I did push that idea. I did destabilize the audience often.”

He says he is closing this part of his career with something destabilizing as well.

“Seeing a man who is 70 dancing and who taking the stage by himself. I am saying I am here. Look at me. I have something to say to you. It is not something we are very familiar with. You don’t see many 70 year old men exposing their bodies and talking with their bodies.”

Fortier Danse-Création presents Solo 70
Where: Azrieli Studio
When: Oct. 25 and 26 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.