[Grand angle] When contemporary dance meets pop music

Ballets jazz Montréal, Cirque du Soleil, PPS Danse… There are many companies that have used popular songs in their shows. From Colocs to Klô Pelgag via Luc Plamondon and Leonard Cohen, local artists have often become sources of inspiration in recent years. A way for artistic directors to attract another audience, and for choreographers to take up a challenge.

On November 17, the PPS Danse company will take the stage with its brand new creation, Beads. A project set up from 2018, in the continuity of Lhasa dance Dance and of Body Love Anarchy / Léo Ferré. “These two creations were immense poetic works, and Pierre-Paul Savoie and I wanted to do a third project in this style. This time, instead of celebrating an artist, we wanted to focus on a territory, Quebec, ”recalls David Rancourt, artistic director of the company since the death of Mr. Savoie in 2021.

For more than a year, the two creators then listened to songs created by Quebecers, from the 1960s to today, until they agreed on about fifty pieces. “We then sent the selection to the choreographers we had already contacted. Each chose four or five favourites; we then distributed the songs chosen to have a show of around twenty songs”, he adds. Thus, on the program, we find Félix Leclerc, Elisapie, Lisa LeBlanc, Milk & Bone and many others.

Attract a different audience

For David Rancourt, creating a work on pre-existing music allows “to attract people who would not have come to dance spontaneously”. “I love long forms, but not all audiences are able to sit for two hours with this kind of proposal,” he explains. We propose to be able to do reset with each song, to start from one universe, to enter another… It allows a constant re-engagement, both as an artist and as a spectator. »

For Alexandra Damiani, general manager of Ballets jazz Montréal since 2021, the public is “actually different” when the company offers shows like Dancing Me. Music by Leonard Cohen and VANISHING MELODY. Music by Patrick Watson. “Contemporary dance can seem alienating to some, especially those who weren’t exposed to this art when they were younger. A film or a play, these are words that we know; dance is more abstract. With music that is already known, which touches the hearts of a large audience, we take a step towards the spectators and we hope that they fall in love with the bodies and the movements”, specifies the one who danced for more than 10 years in New York.

“People who would never have met otherwise come together in the same room for this kind of artistic proposal,” says Jean-Guy Legault, director of the Cirque du Soleil Hommage series and professional in the field for more than 20 years. . Launched in 2015, this series now has six shows to its credit, including five directed by Mr. Legault, and “as many different audiences” according to him. “Beau Dommage was the first tribute, but also the first show created by Cirque du Soleil that was directly inspired by Quebec culture. It made it possible to resonate quickly; with [Robert] Charlebois was more rock, then [Luc] Plamondon, it allowed us to show all the female talent that burns the boards of Quebec, he reflects. What is also good to see is the sharing of generations. For example, for the Cowboys Fringants, the children brought their parents to discover the show. »

Dance is “essential” for this kind of creation, which mixes popular music and circus, according to the director. “Before, the dancers were more there to highlight the acrobatic numbers,” he says. I wanted to give them their proper place. The anchoring of the show, its artistic coherence, which makes it possible to follow the story line are, for me, often guided by dance. They have the abilities and refinement to motivate emotion and reflection while being athletes. »

According to the three professionals, opening up contemporary dance to popular music also leads to a more popular, “less elitist” public. For the new director of Ballets jazz Montréal, it is also important to point out that an audience more accustomed to contemporary dance and its abstract forms can still find themselves in this kind of proposal. “Art and the divine are everywhere on a daily basis. For me, there is no right or wrong dance. Good dancing is good dancing and that’s it. Some find it lacking in artistry, that it’s only entertaining, but it’s very reductive, she defends. The commitment, curiosity and authenticity on the part of the creators are always there. »

Same defensive posture for David Rancourt, who gave carte blanche to the choreographers of Beads. “They have room to unveil their own artistic vision,” he says. Jean Guy Legault also regrets that an elitist label is put on dance. “I will never understand why. Dance, you don’t have to understand it, you have to live it! he proclaims.

“Spontaneity of the heart”

According to the three artists, choreographic creation on already produced musical material brings its share of challenges. For Jean-Guy Legault, it is important to take into account that the public already has a connection with the music. “She already has a history, which is different for everyone. It has a resonance at a specific moment in their lives. We must therefore keep this reality in mind according to this heritage, he describes. When you listen to a song, you create something very personal with your imagination. If you are presented with a visual, an acrobatics, a vision, it opens up to vulnerability, and therefore to being more open to the artistic proposal. »

Thus, Mr. Legault will go “beyond the story” told through the words for his creations. “Music and visuals must not say the same thing, you have to choose. The visual and the interpretation must bring other colors,” he continues.

For Alexandra Damiania, it is important that the dance “find cracks in the rhythm, between the words, in the words”. “You can play on a gesture that falls right on a note, then go against the musicality. The dance then offers a setback and allows us to see and listen to the music in a different way. The poetic language plus the abstract, it creates a somewhat magical chemistry,” she describes. Also, for shows Dance Me. Music by Leonard Cohen and VANISHING MELODY. Music by Patrick Watson, a director was able to intervene to “guarantee a common thread”. “The sequence of songs, the transitions, the multimedia, the scenography… All that serves the work. It creates a bond, she says. In addition, we have always thought of themes through his two works. »

“There is a certain audacity in creating short shapes,” thinks David Rancourt. Indeed, the choreographers he has chosen for Beads must create in just a few minutes, something quite rare in contemporary dance. “These mini-choreographies are breaths, small impulses that come from a spontaneity of the heart and usually, you’re never wrong when it starts from there,” he concludes.


A PPS Dance production. In Sainte-Geneviève on November 17, in Longueuil on November 19, in Montreal on November 24, in Saint-Jérôme on December 1 and in Quebec City on December 6.

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