Like an orchestra conductor, Martin Messier directs a “live transmission” performance in the Quartier des spectacles, manoeuvring 60 dancers in a huge doomsday ballet.
In the heart of the Quartier des spectacles a spirited squad is on tenterhooks. Like an orchestra conductor, Martin Messier directs “live” 60 professional dancers in a vast doomsday ballet. In spasms and waves, the massed group pulsates like a single body, coiling inward and then fanning outward, charging forward and then hunkering down. An outdoor contemporary dance
Shining brightly in this cosmos studded with light and stone is a decidedly contemporary aesthetic, the shimmering movement of creatures in sombre costumes, sometimes masked. Directions for the shape and energy of the dance score are transmitted to the performers by means of a wireless communication system. Whispering into their ears, Martin Messier pilots a human machine that responds magnificently to his instructions. Like a living sculpture in full metamorphosis, anonymous bodies are no longer quite the same, yet not fully something else. A dance that is both primitive and futuristic.
Produced by 14 lieux
Directed and choreographed by Martin Messier
Performed by Élise Bergeron + Charles Brécard + Sophie Breton + Ja James Britton Johnson + Marie-Ève Carrière + Miranda Chan + Matéo Chauchat + Jimmy Chung + Émilie Demers + Kimberley de Jong + Marie-Ève Demers + Amber Downie-Back + Mark Durand + Bailey Eng + Bradley Eng + Karen Fennell + Elinor Fueter + Gina Grant + Susannah Haight + Sara Hanley + Karina Iraola + Eloï Jacques-Wood + Audray Julien + Audrée Juteau + Camille Lacelle-Wilsey + Catherine Lafleur + Patrick Lamothe + Brianna Lombardo + Chi Long + Maria Mantia Papathanasiou + Lucy May + Julien Mercille + Émilie Morin + Camille Mougenot + Gabriel Painchaud + Susan Paulson + Nickle Peace-Williams + Sébastien Provencher + Thibault Rajaofetra + Sovann Rochon-Prom Tep + Simon Renaud + Marine Rixhon + Geneviève Robitaille + Anne-Flore de Rochambeau + Elie-Anne Ross + Olivier Rousseau + Cara Roy + Silvia Sanchez + Marie-Philippe Santerre + Jessica Serli + Stefania Skoryna + Victor Sono + Melina Stinson + Camille Trudel-Vigeant + James Viveiros + Zoe Vos
Music Paul Jebanasam + Martin Messier
Set Design Odile Gamache
Choreographic and Creative Advisor Caroline Laurin-Beaucage
Artistic Coorinator Ingrid Vallus
Production Manager Émilie Martel
Technical Director Olivier Chopinet + Gabriel Duquette
Sound Frédéric Auger
Equipment Design Francis Vaillancourt-Martin
Production Assistant Chloé Eker
Technicians Arthur Champagne + Gabriel Duquette + Marie-Frédérique Gravel + Pierre-Alexandre Poirier-Guay
Photography Denis Martin
Video Robin Pineda
Development Support La Machinerie des arts
Administrative Support Sylvie Lavoie + Ingrid Vallus
Development Diane Boucher
Agent Marc Langlois
Coproduction + Codiffusion Agora de la danse
Developed with the support of Nouveau Chapitre
Creative residencies Quai 5160 + Église Ste-Arsène
Co-presented by Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles
Acknowledgement to Espace Libre + Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental + Jacques Poulin-Denis
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Festival TransAmériques, Montreal, on May 29, 2019
Project founded through
Martin Messier (Montreal) 14 lieux
Martin Messier explores the links between sound and matter by creating works that come to life as complex electro-mechanical and digital performative devices.
Initially a composer, he is interested in sound, video and light, and experiments with choreography to fulfill a desire to create shows that turn upside down the hierarchical relations between the component elements of a piece.
He has designed audio performances (L’horloger, with old alarm clocks, and Pencil Project, with lead pencils) and sound installations (Sewing Machine Orchestra, featuring 8 sewing machines from the 1930s and 40s). His videography includes him acting in the diptych Autoportrait, con amore, for which he received the Prix du court métrage expérimental at the Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival in 2013.
He has also worked on collaborative projects with Nicolas Bernier, Caroline Laurin-Beaucage and Jacques Poulin-Denis, among others. He recently presented Ashes, the result of his first collaboration with the French artist Yro (Élie Blanchard). At the FTA, he presented Hit and Fall in 2011 with Caroline Laurin-Beaucage, as well as Derrière le rideau, il fait peut-être nuit with Anne Thériault, with whom he returned to the FTA in 2016 with Con grazia.
His performances can be seen in Montreal, notably at the MUTEK and Elektra digital arts and electronic music festivals. La chambre des machines received the World Omosiroi Award in Japan in 2018. Since 2010 he has been the head of 14 lieux, a company that produces sound works for the stage. His work has been presented in 43 different countries.
Your show features 60 dancers wearing earpieces, to whom you convey your instructions for their movements via microphone. How did you achieve such a precise technical working method?
Research began in Potsdam in 2014 where I was in residence with Caroline Laurin-Beaucage. Initially I wanted to work with an in-ear monitors system I had used in other shows. I wondered what new things I could develop with this technology by adding dancers. I am a musician, but I’ve been steeped in the dance milieu for 15 years now.
I found that I was looking for tools to be able to directly communicate in real time with the dancers in a way that avoided in-depth study over a 3-year period. With the aid of this wireless system I can give directions straight to them, and right away. I design and manipulate the lighting and the sound, and those little microphones allow me to control the entire show. I also work with rhythm and video. I can thus simultaneously create links with all the component elements.
At the start of the residency I tried all sorts of movements. It was initially to have been a show with only a few dancers, until one night when I was heading drunkenly home on my bicycle, I had the idea of a show with a big mass of dancers, all of them doing the same movements. Working with a lot of people meant keeping things simple. The beauty of the piece is in the simplicity of everyone moving together.
At first, my instructions were pre-recorded. It was very stable, but lacked flexibility. We then realized that it would be a lot more interesting to speak to them live via microphone. By giving directions right in the moment, matter became malleable. From time to time I can toss out ideas, I can improvise; I also become a performer. I am as stressed as they are before a show. I’m sitting at my computer, at the mic. I’m the lighting and sound technician as well. I give instructions using the mic, and I improvise as things advance. With a big mass of bodies, mistakes happen.
By directing the performance live, I can correct them to a certain extent. I was seeking a tool to help me choreograph for a large number of people, and finally that tool is my voice. The dancers hear everything: my breathing, the sounds my mouth makes, my stress… I’ve burrowed my way into their ears.
You control absolutely everything, from design to performance?
I like to control all possible parameters. Nonetheless, half of what occurs eludes my control, and things don’t go exactly as I would like. When I give an instruction there is always considerable leeway for interpretation. If I tell the dancers to go downstage they will, but at a different rhythm, so I must specify the pace. I’m constantly talking to them; they know what they have to do. Sometimes I want some of them to break away from the pack, and give indications to that effect.
There are variations, but most will interpret what I say as close to what I intended, although I try to leave room for individual interpretation. I don’t want to precisely define every aspect. I like to let the performers execute movements as they see fit, so that it’s not all the same. With rhythm and the fact that they are all together, a force is created. They are half controlled, half free. If I tell them to do a dance step, it will be done as they see fit. Given that each body has its own way of moving, the same movement will differ from one person to another.
The performance includes lighting, set design and sound. What does dance bring to the mix?
My goal with this show was to integrate what I do in my solo performances, which means working with matter, bodies and objects. I don’t know what I can bring to the dance, but I find it interesting to plunge into pure movement. My approach is unlike that of other choreographers. My ideas come from elsewhere, how we relate to matter, sound, light. In my solo projects the style is very physical.
Everything appears to be self-evident and straightforward, but in fact everything has been planned, it’s specific. I wanted to bring that precision to this dance. I managed to integrate into this show for 60 people what I had learned as a performer, something I had not succeeded in doing with my previous show Corps mort, which I had crafted as though I were a choreographer, but somehow it all seemed somewhat tacked on. I get the impression that I have achieved something when I feel that everything is interwoven, that all the elements coalesce, that there is a certain harmony among all the component parts.
Then it feels to me like a single, cohesive piece and not one small piece after another. I always think in terms of technique, of parameters and variables, like the way music is composed. It’s always embarrassing to talk about the ideas underpinning my work. It feels a bit simplistic to give meaning to the elements of my performances. One can always make analogies about controlling humans, Orwell’s 1984 for example, but ultimately I don’t like explaining what my work means.
Simply magnificent. (…) Impressive.”
Secretthirteen.org, 2017-06-06, about Field
“An often-literal balancing act of grace and brutality, the work offers humour, release, intrigue and gratitude towards the notions of impermanence and durability.”
Stéphanie Fromentin, Danscussions.com, 2016-06-02, about Con grazia
“The closest thing to real magic you’ll ever see.”
Leah Collins, CBC Arts, 2017-01-19, about Field
« Une réussite esthétique et sonore, avec sa bonne dose d’angoisse et de mystère. »
Sophie Jama, Info-culture.biz, 2017-01-24, à propos de Corps mort