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Dispatch From Montpellier: Hits and misses at contemporary dance festival

June 27, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Centaure-et-animal-c-Nabil- While Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman will always have Paris, dance aficionados will eternally be in thrall to Montpellier, France, for its contemporary dance festival.  Now in its 31st year, the festival (running through July 7), has been directed since 1983 by Algerian-born Jean-Paul Montanari, whose passion for underdogs and the outré parallels his support of the brilliant and the bombastic.  

Montanari has put this charming town of 250,000 on the terpsichorean map, with this year’s offerings including eight world premieres and numerous works new to France, as well as an emphasis on Israeli choreographers.  And as I trot through Europe in search of culture -– literally on a horse in Zürich -- I continued my equine exploration at Wednesday's festival opener, “The Centaur and the Animal.”

Conceived and directed by Bartabas, whose famed horse troupe Theatre Zingaro conquered Southern California in 2002 with its dressage/dance spectacle set to Stravinsky’s  “The Rite of Spring,” this opus proved a misguided and pretentious collaboration between Bartabas and butoh artist Ko Murobushi.  With a voiceover of extracts from French poems by Lautreámont and set to Jean Schwarz’s ambient sound collage, the surreal work was painfully uneventful (Murobushi slowly banged on a piano -- with his feet), and failed to connect the riveting grotesquerie of butoh with the mystery of the horse (four steeds, all darkly lighted). 

There were, however, moments of fleeting beauty:  Bartabas, in hooded garb (shades of Peter O’Toole’s “Lawrence of Arabia”), sat atop his majestic charges, turning, prancing or walking backward; Murobushi was occasionally showered with sand. 

But this production –- a first with horses in the 2,000-seat Corum Opera House (and undoubtedly the last) -– receives a "neigh" from this writer.

Edad-de-Oro-c-Felix-Vazquez For a horse of a different color, olé to festival favorite Israel Galván, who performed his 2005 masterpiece, “La Edad de Oro” (The Golden Age).  Dubbed the “Nijinsky of Flamenco” -- his leaps and radical style conjure Cubist tableaux -- the 38-year-old from Seville worked his magic the old-fashioned way -– sans set and accompanied only by brothers David and Alfredo Lagos, singer and guitarist, respectively.

A holy trinity of virtuosity, they cooked on all cylinders, with Galván’s diagonal jumps ending in frozen arabesques, his windmill arms also propelling him forward.  And talk about footwork:  Unleashing a fusillade of polyrhythms, the seething Spaniard skimmed across the stage like a stone on a lake, his dizzying turns often ending in profile, recalling Nijinsky’s two-dimensional “Faune.” 

Afterward, in a brief conversation through a translator, Galván, who improvises within set parameters, said:  “The show is like my home, but it’s not a question of changing things inside, like I would change the sofa or a painting.  It’s the atmosphere that allows my choreography to evolve.”

Among his influences, Galván said, are the German expressionist film “Nosferatu” and matador/1925 Time magazine cover subject Juan Belmonte.  “He carried a picture of Nijinsky with him into the bullring.  It’s these kinds of artists I want to feel when I do a creation.  They become part of my body.”


Dispatch from Amsterdam: Experiencing the Holland Festival

Dispatch from Zurich: Celebrating opera, music, dance, drama and art

-- Victoria Looseleaf

Top photo: Bartabas on horse with Ko Murobushi. Credit:  Nabil Boutros

Below: Israel Galván. Credit: Felix Vazquez