Edward Clug’s Carmina Burana

Hi, how are you, I recently discovered that dance criticism has been dead since 2015 and I’m real sad about it.

Carmina Burana, Choreography: Edward Clug; Music: Carl Orff; Production: Grands Ballets de Montreal (October 2019)

How did I discover this very under-the-radar tragedy? I went to see Edward Clug’s Carmina Burana the other night–produced by Montreal’s Grands Ballets, along with another Clug piece, Stabat Mater on the program–and when I tried to read about the choreography later, the internet left me very uncharacteristically at a loss.

The first short review I found claimed that “music is the star” of the performances. Which I’m sure made any number of the incredibly talented dancers in the company, not to mention the choreographer, feel super warm and fuzzy inside… (To be fair, yes, the music is amazing, and yes, the Grands Ballets orchestra definitely upped their game and yes the solos were beautiful… Still…)
The second review focused on the fact that the choreographer’s main job lay in pulling this star-quality music away from the audience’s common associations with it (ie: big budget action films).
At which point I decided to go poking around in the French journals to see what they thought.
The Journal de Montréal review contained an interesting reflection on the significance of the massive ring, which formed the majority of the set design, along with lighting. In the choreography, dancers were both pulled to and repulsed by it, which makes sense, given that the circle itself represents the wheel of fortune (O Fortuna, velut luna, etc.). And really, what is one’s fate if not at times times attractive and at other times repulsive?
And Le Devoir focused on the sheer number of dancers on the stage, and the effect created by their simultaneous movement: “L’impact vient de la démultiplication, de l’effet produit par le grand nombre de danseurs. La beauté naît de voir un geste sur des dizaines de corps répétés et de la plus-value d’énergie que cette accumulation produit. C’est le levier chorégraphique principal qu’utilise le chorégraphe.”
Now, what’s special about the Devoir’s review is that it is pretty resoundingly negative. And that’s fine. And it was a well-written review with a distinct point of view that points out some of the stylistic (Carmina) and sociopolitical (Stabat) problems of the program. But what’s frustrating about this review is that it makes some great points, but it does not quite do the work of taking the ballet on its own terms, in order to judge whether it lives up to its own project. Yes, for example, some of the “humouristic” movements fell flat. I agree. But why did they fall flat? And why was there physical humour in a piece about the suffering of the Virgin Mary (Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater) at all?

Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think these pieces represent journalistic “fail” by any means, (maybe the first one). And we all know, from Rory Gilmore, how tough it is to review ballet. What I think has happened is that no one (or no one paid to write in a daily) really knows what’s going on in ballet/dance anymore. Which is to say, I’m not sure that anyone has any language for tying movements of the human body to meaning.

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The Magic of “The Library at Night”

Simply walking into the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal is a terrifically inspiring experience. The combination of soaring windows, reading nooks, and six floors to browse through is enough to get anyone excited about literature.

But one of the library’s greatest features is the basement exhibition space that has housed some truly terrific works in recent years.

BAnQ BLN (V) cr Stephane Bourgeois PS
Photo by Stéphane Bourgeois

Their latest undertaking, in celebration of the Grande Bibliothèque’s 10th anniversary, is called “La Bibliothèque, La Nuit” or, “The Library at Night,” and it is sheer magic from beginning to end.

Based on an essay of the same title by Argentinian-Canadian Alberto Manguel, the exhibit is brought to life by Robert LePage’s brilliant production company Ex Machina. You can get a glimpse of their beautiful work in the trailer (which is absolutely worth a watch, even if you can’t make it to the exhibit itself).

Beginning in a room modeled on the writer’s own library, you are treated to excerpts from Manguel’s lively text, animated by lighting and other effects. Simultaneously spooky and cozy, making you feel like an interloper and an invited guest, this recreated room perfectly conveys what Manguel’s essay is all about: that a library is both the deeply personal story of your life, as well as a window onto the story of the world.

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The 18th Edition of Montreal’s Blue Metropolis Festival

blue metThe sun is shining, the snow has melted, and Blue Metropolis just announced their 2016 program. Spring has come to Montreal!

For those not familiar, Blue Met is the annual literary festival of the Blue Metropolis Foundation, which has been bringing people together in Montreal since 1997 to promote reading, writing, and education, focusing on a diverse range of authors and creators from Canada and around the world. While they spotlight Canadian authors, with five languages represented, the scope is undoubtedly international.

Blue Met’s commitment to linguistic and cultural diversity is seen foremost in the literary prizes they bestow. The Grand Prix littéraire is often given to a major Canadian writer – names like Margaret Atwood and Dany Laferrière – but also to international writers like Amitav Ghosh and Maryse Condé. This year’s winner is Anne Carson, which is very exciting particularly given the rarity of her public appearances.

AbdourahmanWaberiDjoloEtats-UnisThe Mots Pour Changer/Words to Change Prize is presented to an author whose work particularly espouses intercultural understanding, and this year’s winner is Ivoirian Abdourahman Waberi, best known for his novel Les Etats-Unis d’Afrique. I’m perhaps most excited about seeing the winner of the Premio Metropolis Azul, Valeria Luiselli, author of the everyone’s-talking-about-it novel The Story of My Teeth.

Valeria LuiselliThis year’s First Nations Literary Prize goes to Thomas King, a Canadian author of Greek and Cherokee descent. And finally, the festival has instituted this year the Literary Diversity Prize for a First Publication, to be given to an “écrivain issu de l’immigration” (which is the French turn of phrase for “immigrant writer”) who lives in Montreal, and this year it will be the Ghayas Hacham for his novel Play Boys.

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“Colours of Jazz” and Immigration in the 1920’s

It is interesting the way stories about art are told.

In fact, I will just wallow in my obtuseness for a moment and say that, while I like to look at pretty things (and sometimes not-so-pretty-but-sort-of-interesting things), the stories are what interest me the most. My tendency at exhibits is to ogle the writing on the wall rather than the art itself.

And I really wish that the writing on the wall was written for people like me. Some kind of discernible plot. Stronger narrative voice (because obviously a curator is a form of narrator). Etc.

DSCF0503That describes my general train of thought while browsing the current exhibit at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux Arts: “Colours of Jazz” featuring works of the Beaver Hall Group.

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