FROM 1985 TO 2006:
THEATRE FESTIVAL OF THE AMERICAS
“Our dream was to establish in Montreal an international festival of theatre from across the Americas. Indeed, what is closest is often the most distant. Our theatre culture and our artistic and intellectual exchanges have long been focused on an east-west axis, ties to the mother countries, and we felt that a similar situation existed in both North and South America.
It was fascinating to shift our gaze and to see – in impressionistic, fragmentary fashion – what the north-south axis could reveal about theatre and about the world on our own continent. As we ventured through the Americas, from Inukjuak to Buenos Aires by way of New York, Mexico, Port-au-Prince, Santiago and Havana, we discovered other ways of comprehending the world.
All sorts of humans, faces, cultures, theatres, writing and thoughts at work. We were blown away, utterly fascinated.”
– Marie-Hélène Falcon
America as Self-discovery
The Theatre Festival of the Americas (FTA) was established in 1985 in a Montreal in full cultural and artistic effervescence. Co-founders Marie-Hélène Falcon and Jacques Vézina dreamed of an international, decidedly urban event. Quebec artists and spectators discovered leading artists of the day from all over the Americas. The Festival was also an occasion for local artists to compare, in relaxed fashion, how their own work measured up to novel approaches and to engage in dialogue with artists and works shaped by other urgencies.
The Americas of North and South
Beginning with the first edition in 1985, pieces presented at the Festival question the nature, forms, languages and conventions of theatre. Presented every two years back then, the shows selected were imbued with the rebellious spirit that would define the FTA.
Plays of resistance from Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, the United States, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Canada, Quebec and even northern Quebec (Inukjuak) were all part of the mix, featuring multiple languages, aesthetics and different generations of artists.
Works by First Nations were presented, testimonials of the oppression of ancient cultures. From north to south, the Americas were recognized as the creative reservoir of the Festival, revealing a cultural axis often neglected in favour of Europe and the mother countries.
Montreal, a Vibrant Force
After the 1980 referendum failed to pass, art and culture across Quebec exploded in all sorts of forms. Montreal was a veritable laboratory where artists took over vacant spaces to create and present their work. The Cent jours des arts contemporains and the Festival international de nouvelle danse (FIND) emerged from that ebullient context, virtually at the same time as the FTA.
Freed of pursuing a national and social project, young stage artists connected with contemporary theatre and performance art from abroad, developing a powerful theatre of imagery – witness the works of Gilles Maheu and Carbone 14, and those of Robert Lepage. Audiences embraced aesthetic shocks and revelations, ready for all sorts of extraordinary experiences. It was in that context of opening up, of strong desires, that the first decade of the FTA quenched a thirst for disconcerting, innovative adventures.
Robert Lepage on the cancellation of Plaques tectoniques (FTA, 1989)
“At one in the morning on May 29, 1989, halfway through the third edition of the Theatre Festival of the Americas, the artistic director Marie-Hélène Falcon made her way to the Cégep du Vieux Montréal. Although her workday was over, she had heard that the Plaques tectoniques team seemed to be experiencing major difficulties. When she stepped into the college gymnasium, transformed into a theatre for the duration of the Festival, she was surprised that the team wasn’t there bustling about, putting the final touches for the première the next day. There was no one there, the place was empty!
A grand piano that we had tried to raise aloft over the pool using big hemp ropes had run aground, as it were, dangling precariously in the air between ocean and continent. Marie-Hélène reached us in the changing room, which was our dressing room and green room. I can still see the expression on her face when she entered the room. Seeing that the group was in the midst of an intense discussion, she smiled and asked how things were going. Not well at all, Marie-Hélène! We don’t have a show!
The attempt to merge into one all five stories that comprised Les plaques tectoniques the previous year at a festival in Toronto had failed. We didn’t have enough time. There were two options. Either we present a half-baked dud, or we cancel the show.
After listening to the opinions of all team members, after asking all sorts of relevant questions and weighing all the options, Marie-Hélène gave her decision: Cancel the show!
After the cancellation the FTA, true to its mission, continued to support our project, allowing us to present a new version the following year at the Jean Talon station. The piece continued to evolve, and was presented in Quebec City, Glasgow and London. There was even a full-length film made by the director Peter Mettler.”
Excerpt from FTA : Nos jours de fête, 2018
In Pursuit of the Avant-garde
“We never sought consensus. In our opinion, that was a dead end that empties art of its poetic and political charge. From the get-go, we were interested in aspects that create rupture: marginality, difference, racial and cultural mixing, illegitimacy, the fly in the ointment. To paraphrase John Cage, if something disturbs you, listen to it We kept our ears open to what was unique, dissonant, discordant, radical, to artists who question their art and their era, who seek new forms of expression, other ways of experiencing theatre, of encountering the audience. What do we need to see? What is important and should be shown today? What should we resist? The Festival was a huge worksite, constantly evolving.”
– Marie-Hélène Falcon
From 1985 to 2006, the FTA kept expanding its scope to include even so-called fantasized Americas that it discovered in other realms, as far away as Asia and Africa. The fall of the Berlin Wall transformed the artistic landscape of Europe. The avant-garde from eastern Europe was rich in powerful stage traditions, a theatre of resistance that generated aesthetic shocks never before encountered in America.
Spectators discovered startling interpretations of the classics, such as Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Shakespeare’s Hamlet revamped by the Lithuanian Eimuntas Nekrosius. Artists were directing their gaze at the major issues of the day and the Iranian-born American director Reza Abdoh’s brutal critique of America, The Hip-Hop Waltz of Euridice, was a case in point. Another topical issue was addressed by the Belgian troupe Groupov in Rwanda 94, a study of inter-ethnic war and the Rwandan genocide.
From 1985 to 2006, the FTA kept expanding its scope to include even so-called fantasized Americas that it discovered in other realms, as far away as Asia and Africa. The fall of the Berlin Wall transformed the artistic landscape of Europe. The avant-garde from eastern Europe was rich in powerful stage traditions, a theatre of resistance that generated aesthetic shocks never before encountered in America. Spectators discovered startling interpretations of the classics, such as Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Shakespeare’s Hamlet revamped by the Lithuanian Eimuntas Nekrosius. Artists were directing their gaze at the major issues of the day and the Iranian-born American director Reza Abdoh’s brutal critique of America, The Hip-Hop Waltz of Euridice, was a case in point. Another topical issue was addressed by the Belgian troupe Groupov in Rwanda 94, a study of inter-ethnic war and the Rwandan genocide.
Théâtre du Monde and Nouvelles Scènes
From 1996 to 2006, the FTA presented Théâtres du Monde, an “insert” edition on alternate years. Works featured included Les plaques tectoniques by Robert Lepage, Les Atrides by Ariane Mnouchkine and Eraritjaritjaka, musée des phrases by Heiner Goebbels. The FTA is now an annual event for spectators, presenting a cornucopia of theatre, dance and performance pieces.
Keen to support emerging artists and young companies, Marie-Hélène Falcon created within the FTA structure the Nouvelles Scènes event, which from 1997 to 2004 provided a showcase for more than 30 theatre, dance and performance companies from Quebec and across Canada.
Creative, from one Generation to the Next
Keen to portray the traditions, acting styles and artistic trends underlying theatre and dance, the Festival features major figures in the contemporary performing arts. FTA audiences had the opportunity to see Tadeusz Kantor’s mythical Classe morte, and to follow the evolution of a major artist like Romeo Castellucci, who first made an appearance at the Festival (also his first presentation in North America) in 1997.
Approachable and interested in others, these renowned luminaries met with new and emerging artists at the local, national and international levels. The FTA became known for its inclusive generational and aesthetic spectrum. Artists like Robert Wilson, Christoph Marthaler, Meredith Monk, Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group, Anatoli Vassiliev, Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine, Frank Castorf and other leading figures presented their visions of the world and nourished the imaginations of spectators here in Montreal.
Similarly, the Festival served as a springboard for major Quebec artists, leading to impressive international careers. Robert Lepage, Gilles Maheu, Denis Marleau, Marie Brassard and Wajdi Mouawad, to name but a few, went on to perform for audiences the world over following their presentations at the Festival.
They came to the Theatre Festival of the Americas…
Reza Abdoh + Ricardo Bartis + Benno Besson + Marie Brassard + Peter Brook + Daniel Brooks + Romeo Castellucci + Marie Chouinard + Marie Clements + Tim Etchells + Martin Faucher + Richard Foreman + La Fura dels Baus + Rodrigo Garcia + Stéphane Gladyszewski + Heiner Goebbels + Brigitte Haentjens + Marcelle Hudon + Tadeusz Kantor + Amir Reza Koohestani + Jan Lauwers + Suzanne Lebeau + Elizabeth LeCompte et le Wooster Group + Bia Lessa + Robert Lepage + Hillar Liitoja + Mabou Mines + Gilles Maheu et Carbone 14 + Denis Marleau + Christoph Marthaler + Richard Maxwell + Ariane Mnouchkine + Meredith Monk + Wajdi Mouawad + Rabih Mroué + Eimontas Nekrosius + Pol Pelletier + Alain Platel + Claude Poissant + Alice Ronfard + Jean-Pierre Ronfard + Nadia Ross + Lina Saneh + Árpád Schilling + Peter Sellars + Yves Sioui Durand + Dave St-Pierre + Julie Andrée T + François Tanguy + Anatolt Vassiliev + Krzysztof Warlikowski + Deborah Warner + Robert Wilson + Jacob Wren…
Youth at the Heart of the Festival
A major goal at the FTA since its inception, and now a key element of its approach, is to interest young people in the arts by means of educational activities and getting them actively involved in the artistic process.
At the very first edition in 1985, an international delegation of some fifteen young theatre artists came to Montreal to discover new approaches and to exchange ideas and experiences with other artists. The International Rendezvous for Young Professional Stage Artists has become a significant event that attracts hundreds of young theatre and dance professionals, an opportunity to reshape their approach to their art.
The Urban Dream Capsule, FTA 1999
The City is Ours!
“The Festival has always been fantastically urban, an occasion to show off the city, to bring it alive in new ways. We felt the need to get out of theatre venues, to take over the public space and perform in forgotten nooks and crannies, sites of memory… Let’s take over the streets! We discovered unusual, offbeat spaces, mysterious, abandoned locations that we brought back to life for a few weeks. Together with the artists we chose inspiring, symbolic sites where they could create or re-create their shows, giving free expression to their approach. There was something thrilling about finding the right space, the perfect spot, because the scope and impact of the show was at stake.”
– Marie-Hélène Falcon
Since its inception, the FTA has stepped outside conventional venues to reinvent the ritual of in situ performance, or to present shows in specially modified sites. Le porteur des peines du monde by Yves Sioui Durand was presented in an empty lot at the corner of Bleury and de Maisonneuve. Titanic, by Jean-Pierre Ronfard and Gilles Maheu, took place in a scrap yard located between a railway line and Le Carmel monastery, the devastated landscape of the shipwreck.
La trilogie des dragons by Robert Lepage called for a monumental, unlikely site. Warehouse Shed No. 9 in the Port of Montreal surprised spectators and was a key aspect of the adventure. When Ariane Mnouchkine and Théâtre du Soleil came to celebrate Montreal’s 350th anniversary in 1992, the Maurice Richard hockey arena, transformed into a theatre venue, welcomed the troupe.
Over the years, large-scale creative adventures have taken the public space by storm, much to the delight of the audience and passersby, creating an urban poetry that charms and captivates. The Urban Dream Capsule by the Australian Neil Thomas, presented in 1999, left a lasting impression. For the two weeks of the Festival, four men with shaved heads moved into display windows at The Bay department store in downtown Montreal.
They lived in that specially designed habitat, working and playing, presenting on occasion prepared sketches. Above all, they communicated without words but as generously as possible, with the spectators gathered at the windows and with passersby interrupted in their wanderings. A human vivarium, a daily dream world, their presentation turned conventions of live performance upside down by insinuating itself into the daily lives of Montrealers, day and night, in a dynamic, surprising fashion that the FTA encourages.
From the FIND Adventure to the new FTA
From 1985 to 2003 and in parallel with the Theatre Festival of the Americas, the Festival international de nouvelle danse also made waves on the Montreal scene. In December 2003, FIND closed down its operations. The contemporary dance milieu now no longer had an international festival, and called for the creation of a new event to support the growth and development of dance. The Theatre Festival of the Americas, with its broad concept of stage performance, decided to assume that dance mandate, thereby becoming a festival of contemporary dance and theatre. In fact, the Festival sets no limits on performing arts or on categories. Dance and theatre rub shoulders with performance art, installations and related activities, each influencing the other or reinforcing their specific natures when in contact with the other. The distinctive languages of the visual arts and of performance, cinema and music enrich each other and live performance in general. Text, speech and literature are no longer specific to theatre, and at times are gutted or realigned to suit other aesthetics. Bodies, presence, even performance, extend the idea of movement and of choreography, thereby allowing new forms of dance to take shape.
In a context of commingling and cohabitation of the arts favoured by the Festival TransAmériques, spectators increasingly attend performances without discriminating on the basis of artistic discipline. Artistic communities move more freely and naturally from one form to another, the artists enriching their vocabulary as they discover new artistic languages, thus enriching the arts themselves.
FROM 2007 TO THE PRESENT:
FTA = Dance + Theatre
“Trans-cultural, trans-disciplinary, transnational, this new event in dance and theatre is a natural continuation of a movement initiated in the past that, in the future, will continue to lead us elsewhere in a spirit of constant renewal. At a time when impurity, mingling, exchange and circulation characterize the performing arts, we are going where contemporary art takes us along a road of mutations and encounters.”
– Marie-Hélène Falcon, programme officiel du FTA 2007
In May 2007 the Theatre Festival of the Americas became the Festival TransAmériques. The new FTA now also encompassed dance and renewed its commitment to avant-garde stage presentations, reaffirming its preference for experiences free of categorization. The artistic project grew, but stayed true to its roots. The new Festival was broader in scope, a structure where dance and theatre were equal forces with all sorts of variations imaginable, opening up the poetic and performative space to let the imagination take flight. After more than 20 years of existence, the Festival became an annual event, a frequency that allows it to more closely follow the creative pace of artists and to expand its engagement with them as it assumes the important role of co-producer.
After a few years the Festival TransAmériques settled into a groove, able to continually delight its loyal, enthusiastic audiences who truly appreciate this springtime rendezvous that extends the regular performance season, while also shaking up comfortable habits. The addition of dance to its mandate gradually reinforced synergies between the dance and theatre communities, disciplines that now quite naturally and increasingly share the same audience, the traditional labels and categories now irrelevant. Spectators have developed a taste for shows that sometimes shift away from representations of reality and actual experience to veer off into exceptional adventures. The FTA builds a loyal audience on the basis of the intriguing nature of the pieces presented, all it them potential portals to unknown worlds. The response of the audience allows the Festival to imagine unprecedented creative adventures, to invite artists with trenchant, demanding styles, to stretch the limits of what is possible.
The next decade opened the door to a new generation of artists, while well-established artists with a loyal following were still featured, choreographers like Daina Ashbee, Frédérick Gravel, Dana Michel, Benoît Lachambre, Daniel Léveillé and Louise Lecavalier, along with the theatre artists Marie Brassard, Christian Lapointe and Olivier Choinière. International performers were also enthusiastically welcomed, with striking stage works that went far beyond the usual strictures. For example, the Portuguese choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas, the rising star Matija Ferlin from the Balkans, the Spanish artist Angelica Liddel and leading European directors such as Thomas Ostermeier, Ivo Van Hove and Krystian Lupa.
In 2013 the FTA was the recipient of the 28th Grand Prix awarded by the Montreal Arts Council, in recognition of its importance in the city’s cultural landscape. In June 2014 Marie-Hélène Falcon handed over the reins to two new festival directors, bringing new leadership to continue the FTA adventure.
Having worked alongside Marie-Hélène for eight years as an artistic consultant, the director Martin Faucher became the new artistic director and David Lavoie the new administrative director. Together they are reinvigorating the Festival. While pursuing continuity in fulfilling its mandate, they also have an eye on the long-term growth and stability of an institution that is very important for national and international dance and theatre.
A Celebration for All
FTA 2015 was the first under artistic director Martin Faucher, and opened with Dancing Grandmothers by the choreographer Eun-Me Ahn, an eccentric star on the South Korean scene. Onstage a dozen grandmothers plus nine young performers danced with contagious joy. This generous, festive show ended with a thrilling assembly as artists and audience gathered together onstage. It set the tone for Martin Faucher’s mandate, an outstretched hand welcoming spectators of all ages to discover the joy, beauty, poetry and the ecstatic pleasure of dance and theatre every year at the Festival.
Also featured that year was Tauberbach by Alain Platel, an artist invited to the FTA on a regular basis, a loyalty that creates a symbolic bridge between the artistic direction of the past and that of the present.
The Artaud Marathon A radical days-long poetry vigil
Tout Artaud?! In May 2015 at La Chapelle scènes contemporaines, Christian Lapointe took on the challenge of reading out loud in front of an audience all of Antonin Artaud’s writings. He started on Saturday, May 23 at 7 a.m., reading non-stop (or almost), day and night. Spectators could come and go as they wished and stay as long as they wanted. The price of admission was symbolic: a flower, placed onstage. Some people stayed for hours, others returned several times. On Tuesday, May 26 at 2:45 a.m. after 57 hours and 36 minutes, the performance ended. Lapointe had read 2528 pages from 28 tomes of the poet’s œuvre. As time went by flowers and trinkets filled the stage, creating a living, performative mausoleum, much in keeping with the style of the radical artist Artaud.
10th edition of the Festival TransAmériques
Transformation lies at the heart of the FTA. At the end of its first decade in 2016, the Festival confirmed that aspect with an edition featuring both established and emerging dance and theatre artists. Directors like Denis Marleau and Christoph Marthaler, who had previously taken part in the Theatre Festival of the Americas, rubbed shoulders with the great dancer and choreographer Louise Lecavalier, an artist whose works the FTA has been supporting since 2008.
A new generation of artists was making its mark: the Canadian choreographer Amanda Acorn, the French director Julie Duclos, the Quebec director Maxime Carbonneau and Quebec actress Christine Beaulieu, who was the star of a remarkable documentary theatre piece, J’aime Hydro. It probed the ambiguous relationship Quebecers have with the government-owned utility and stirred the flames of citizenship. The anniversary edition closed with Gala by the choreographer Jérôme Bel.
A relaxed, exhilarating celebration of the pleasure of dance for all, it featured some twenty citizens, dancers and non-dancers of all ages bravely performing onstage. More than ever, the FTA invites artists and audiences to discover the power of art, its capacity to reconsider the world and perhaps change it.
Taking advantage of the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations, the 2017 edition of the FTA gave Montreal pride of place. The program opened with a questioning of how we live together, a look at the neighbourhoods of Montreal, at individuals and communities and their contradictions.
100 citizens were onstage as part of 100% Montreal, a lively, interactive portrait of the city orchestrated by the German collective Rimini Protokoll. In addition, seven writers from diverse backgrounds and contrasting styles visited seven Montreal neighbourhoods to create Jusqu’où te mènera Montréal?, directed by Martin Faucher. The dancer and choreographer Jocelyne Montpetit invited fifteen spectators at a time to tiptoe through her childhood home, a choreographic visit charged with memory.
The celebrations concluded with a grand finale as 375 dancers gathered at Place des Festivals to perform Sylvain Émard’s huge line dance Le super méga continental. That edition reaffirmed the urban character of the FTA and its deep roots in contemporary, cosmopolitan Montreal, fertile soil that is constantly revitalized.
A Celebration in Print
A book outlining the long and rich history of the FTA was published in May 2018. Composed of reports and testimonials by artists and observers from here and elsewhere, it traces each edition of the Festival while keeping alive the unflagging quest for art that is present, essential and vibrant. With its aesthetic and political debates and philosophical reflections, FTA: Nos jours de fête heralds theatre and dance, and foreshadows many dynamic festivals to come.