MONACO DANCE FORUM – December 2006

With the opening event a duet between a mechanical digger and a dancer on the sea wall at Monte Carlo, and the closing performance given by the designated High Priestess of contemporary dance, Carolyn Carlson, enveloped by the wizardry of the latest digital technology on stage at the sumptuous Opéra Gamier, one can get some idea of the scale and diversity of the 2006 Monaco Dance Forum.

This fourth season of the bi-annual and most ambitious of Europe’s dance festivals took place from 7th to 16th December. The Forum which has up to now, taken place within the confines of the already spacious Grimaldi Forum, exploded this year into dozens of different venues throughout the principality and even into the surrounding towns. Twenty-five dance companies were invited, one hundred and ten different projects from thirty-three different countries competed for prizes for ‘Digital Dance’ and thirteen Junior Ballet Companies, national and international, presented eighty student dancers in three days of performances. There were conferences and discussions which included practical subjects such suitable dance floors for different kinds of dance, the relations between dance teaching and the medical profession, and the demands made upon dancers by today’s choreographers. There were, of course, also talks and interviews with performers and creators, as well as workshops and a series of performances given by smaller, local companies from the Provence-Cote d’Azur area.

As well as the excellent stages available at the Grimaldi Forum and the Opera House, it was a surprise to find more venues suitable for dance scattered throughout Monaco, although it left spectators sprinting along Monaco’s already confusing and often treacherously serpentine streets to reach the next venue in time. The Sporting d’Hiver former casino became the headquarters of the festival and housed the many flickering screens of digital installations within its magnificent Art Deco rooms and nearby both the Hotel de Paris and the Hotel Hermitage offered their luxurious spaces for special events. The famous ballet studio at the Casino, now called the Studio Diaghilev, was used for workshops and seminars.

The Dance Forum opened with the presentation of the Nijinsky Awards – a sort of dance ‘Oscar’- and this year’s recipients were Gil Roman, the long-term collaborator of

Maurice Béjart and now Associate Artistic Director of Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Ana Laguna, dancer and muse to the Swedish choreographer, Mats Ek, and choreographers John Neumeier and Trisha Brown. A prize as emerging choreographer was given to Marco Goecke, presently resident choreographer with the Stuttgart Ballet. North American contemporary dance dominated performances at the main venues but Forum Director, Dominique Passat, has searched further afield in her quest for cultural diversity and invited companies from Mozambique, New Caledonia and India as well as African companies based in France. The only major French company visiting the Forum was the Ballet National de Marseille performing director, Frederic Flamand’s work La Cite Radieuse.

I was able to see some contrasting performances including a hip-hop company from the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia. This dance style is immensely popular in France and accorded considerable respect which I cannot share. Les Damnés promised a work based on the Faust legend and “questioning the whys and wherefores of the soul”. It proved to be a lively 45 minutes of hip-hop engagingly performed by a young cast. Over at the Grimaldi Forum two monstres sacrés of American dance, Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown shared a programme to present the European premieres of their latest works. These were both issues of collaboration with multi-media artists and made with the participation of the experimental technological departments of Arizona State University. Bill T.Jones is too theatrical and original an artist to be overwhelmed by digital images swamping his performance, and he still dominated the stage with his long solo piece entitled “22”. A spoken as well as a danced work, he told of his family background as impoverished farm workers, and of his life today, eloquently and interestingly. Trisha Brown’s work entitled & How Long Does The Subject Of The Volume is expectedly much more abstract in form, and more subservient to the machinations of technicians creating the constantly changing digital images. The Montreal based dancer Louise Lecavalier performed three works by three different Canadian choreographers which proved to be original and entertaining. Well-known from her long collaboration with the group La La La Human Steps with which she was a star performer, she is now mainly a solo artist and performs with powerful and beautifully controlled technique in contrasting moods.

One main objective of the Monaco Dance Forum, and born of the initiative of Jean-Christophe Maillot, director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, has been to organise auditions for young dancers as an aid to find the vital first engagement. The intention is that company directors and choreographers can see dancers at the Forum in a congenial atmosphere rather than dancers needing to make those costly and exhausting tours crisscrossing Europe in the hope of finding a job. This year it was decided to change the format from solo auditions on an empty stage to presenting a number of Junior Companies made up of graduate students. In this way not only a dancer’s technique would be on show but also their ability to work in different styles and their stage presence could be judged. Among those Junior companies I was able to see was that from the Conservatoire de Paris in four short contrasting pieces, a newly choreographed Dying Swan from a young dancer from Prague Junior Ballet and the excellent Europa Danse which is based in France. Europa Danse is the most experienced of the Junior Companies and has now, for some years, offered the best pupils from leading schools across Europe the possibility of a year’s further training and performing. These young dancers performing works by Duato, Kylian and Alexander Ekman demonstrated the advantages of working in a Junior Ballet and gave a performance notable in its maturity and expertise. I was also able to see the morning class and ‘presentation’ by groups from Quebec and Hong Kong. Following the class each dancer performed a short solo of their own choreography, without music. The revelation of the day was the emergence of real talent from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. The male dancers had already made an impact during the classical class but when performing their own inventive contemporary choreography were quite remarkable. Obviously, even in dance, China is the country to watch! On a disappointing note, there were few people watching either the evening performances or the morning sessions of these Junior Ballets although I understand that some dancers were invited to take further classes with the Ballets de Monte Carlo. I had already feared that few company directors would have the time during what is the busiest period of the year to spend days in Monte Carlo, but fortunately there were also some grants to be distributed for further development and the companies from Tunisia and Senegal were the recipients. All in all, a stimulating Dance Forum packed full of events to satisfy any dance lover in search of new horizons.