[Grand angle] When modern dance meets pop music

Ballet 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 a source of inspiration in recent years. A way for artistic directors to engage a different audience and choreographers to solve the problem.

On November 17, the PPS Danse company will appear on stage with its new creation. Beads. A project established since 2018, continuously Lhasa dance Dance and The Anarchy of Body Love / Léo Ferré. “These two creations were huge poetic works, and Pierre-Paul Savoie and I wanted to do a third project in this style. This time, instead of celebrating one artist, we wanted to focus on one area, Quebec,” recalls David Rancourt, the company’s artistic director since Mr. Savoin’s death in 2021.

For more than a year, the two creators listened to songs created by Quebecers from the 1960s to the present day until they agreed on about fifty pieces. “Then we sent the selection to the choreographers we had already contacted. Each chose four or five favorites; then we distributed the selected songs for the twenty-song show,” he adds. So in the program we find Félix Leclerc, Elisapie, Lisa LeBlanc, Milk & Bone and many others.

Attract a different audience

For David Rancourt, creating work on pre-existing music allows him to “engage people who don’t come to dance spontaneously”. “I love long forms, but not all audiences can sit through two hours with this kind of offering,” he explains. we offer to do reset it with each song, starting from one universe, entering another… It allows for constant re-engagement as both artist and audience. »

For Alexandra Damiani, general manager of Ballets jazz Montréal since 2021, the public is “actually different” when the company offers shows Dance I. Music by Leonard Cohen and THE DISAPPEARING MELODY. Music by Patrick Watson. “Contemporary dance may seem strange to some, especially those who are not familiar with this art at a young age. Film or play, these are the words we know; dance is more abstract. We are moving towards the audience with music that is already well known and touching the hearts of large audiences, and we hope that they will fall in love with their bodies and movements.” New York.

“People who would otherwise never meet come together in the same room for this kind of artistic offering,” says Jean-Guy Legault, director of the Cirque du Soleil Hommage series and a professional in the field for more than 20 years. Launched in 2015, the series now has six shows, including five directed by Mr. Legault, and what he says are “such a different audience.” “Beau Dommage was the first tribute, but also the first show created by Cirque du Soleil and directly inspired by Quebec culture. It allowed to quickly resonate; with [Robert] Back then, Charlebois was more rock [Luc] Plamondon, it allowed us to show all the female talent that lit up the boards of Quebec, she reflects. What is good to see is the generational sharing. For example, for Cowboys Fringants, kids brought their parents to discover the show. »

According to the director, dance is “essential” for such creations, which combine popular music and circus. “In the past, the dancers were there more to accentuate the acrobatic numbers,” he says. I wanted to give them their rightful place. The anchor of the play, its artistic coherence makes it possible to watch story line for me, it’s often driven by dance. They have the ability and finesse to motivate emotions and thoughts while being athletes. »

Opening contemporary dance to popular music also leads to a more popular, “less elitist” public, according to the three professionals. For the new director of Ballets jazz Montréal, it should also be noted that an audience more accustomed to contemporary dance and its abstract forms can still find themselves in such an offering. “Art and the divine are everywhere every day. There is no right or wrong dance for me. A good dance is a good dance and that’s it. Some see this as a flaw in the craft, arguing that it’s only fun, but too reductive. The commitment, interest and originality of the creators is always there. »

The same defensive posture for David Rancourt, who gave carte blanche to the choreographers. Beads. “They have space to unleash their artistic vision,” he says. Jean Guy Legault also laments the elitist labeling of dance. “I will never understand why. Dance, you don’t have to understand it, you have to live it! announces.

“Spontaneity of the Heart”

According to the three artists, creating choreography on already prepared musical material brings its own challenges. For Jean-Guy Legault, it is important to consider that the public already has a relationship with music. “He already has a history that is different for everyone. It resonates at a certain moment in their lives. Therefore, we must remember this reality 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 allows you to be more open to vulnerability and therefore artistic suggestion. »

So Mr. Legault will “go beyond the story” told through words for his creations. “Music and visuals don’t have to say the same thing, you have to choose. “Visual and interpretation should bring other colors,” he continues.

For Alexandra Damiania, it is important that dance “finds cracks in the rhythm, between the words, in the words.” “You can play with a gesture that hits a straight note, and then you can go against the musicality. Dance then offers a failure and an opportunity to see and listen to music in a different way. The poetic language plus the abstract creates a slightly magical chemistry,” he describes. Also for shows Dance Me. Music by Leonard Cohen and THE DISAPPEARING MELODY. Music by Patrick Watson, a director was able to intervene to “guarantee a common thread”. “Song sequence, transitions, multimedia, screenplay… All this serves the work. It creates a bond, he says. In addition, we have always thought of themes through his two works. »

“There’s a certain courage in creating short forms,” ​​reckons David Rancourt. Indeed, his chosen choreographers Beads in a few minutes he must create something quite rare in modern dance. “These mini-choreographies are breaths, little pulses, born of the spontaneity of the heart, and usually you can never go wrong when you start there,” he said.


A PPS Dance production. Saint-Geneviève on November 17th, Longueuil on the 19th, Montreal on the 24th, Saint-Jérôme on the 1st and Quebec City on December 6th.

To see in the video

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