The most recent phase of the great adventure BOW’T TRAIL. In a Montreal location charged with memory, Rhodnie Désir explores the heritage of Afrodescendant peoples in a powerful hymn to resistance.
After travelling across America, choreographer and documentary filmmaker Rhodnie Désir lands in her native Montreal to unveil the results of a stunning quest: BOW’T-Tio’Tia:Ke. A poignant territorial excavation made up of striking encounters, absorbed by her body and reinterpreted as an arresting dance of life.
The Haitian-Canadian artist presents her triptych, created with a sense of urgency, in the thick of the Black Lives Matter movement. Désir fervently reclaims the outdoor spaces laden with colonial memory, reckoning with our city’s slave-trading past and converting this ignominy into life-affirming, cathartic gestures. Surrounded by musicians, the choreographer explores African-American legacies and opens an essential dialogue with First Nations peoples. Ancestral rhythms, liberating chants, incantatory movements… a ceremony takes place, which is an ode to resistance. A fundamental duty of remembrance.
Produced by Rhodnie Désir / RD Créations
Choreographed and performed by Rhodnie Désir
Artistic Direction, Vocal Compositions Rhodnie Désir
Music composed and performed by Moe Clark + Cécile Doo-Kingué + Engone Endong + Jahsun
Music for Protest: Tout ce qu’il faut (lyrics Jenny Salgado alias J.Kyll, music Jenny Salgado + André Courcy)
Production Manager and Technical Director Samuel Thériault
Creation support Isabelle Poirier
Costumes Géraldine Jeune
Artistic Advisor Paul Chambers
Video Alejandro de Leon
Photographer Kevin Calixte
Diffusion Cusson Management
Co-produced Festival TransAmériques
Creative residency Place des Arts
Presented in association with Pointe-à-Callière, cité d’archéologie et d’histoire de Montréal
Outreach project Jamel Ben Gharbia + Malika Bouchard-Medawar + Inès Sassia Julie Chiha + Marianne D. Gagnon + Élisabeth-Anne Dorléans + Camille Gendron + Anne-Audrey Remarais
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Luba Markovskaia
Rhodnie Désir (Montreal) RD Créations
Over the past fifteen years, socially conscious artist Rhodnie Désir has been developing a choreographic-documentary Afro-contemporary language, mainly inspired by traditions from Haiti, Central and Western Africa, as well as from other Caribbean nations.
Her body of work, comprised of some fifteen performance pieces, is an ongoing conversation with social history, indignation, and human encounters. In 2013, she created BOW’T, which was staged in Canada and at the Festival international de danse de Ouagadougou. She developed it to produce the BOW’T TRAIL project, which has taken her to six countries on the American continent: Martinique, Haiti, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the United States. With the resulting footage and stories of her encounters, she created a five-episode web series (TOU.TV) and a 75-video online documentary broadcast on ICI ARTV/Radio-Canada, following the African-American heritage of resistance and its rhythms.
The only North American artist to have been invited as part of the French-language programming of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, Désir then returned to Montreal and presented BOW’T TRAIL Rétrospek at the Espace Libre theatre in 2019. In 2020, she received two Prix de la danse de Montréal: the Grand Prix and the Prix Envol. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the APAP Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts. In 2017, she founded the company RD Créations, which develops and produces her performance works and cultural endeavours.
BOW’T-Tio’ta:ke follows a long journey that has taken you all across the Americas. What does this particular layover in your hometown of Montreal mean to you?
Travelling can be seen as this exotic call of the unknown, but what does it mean to travel in the places where we live? This land is my everyday stomping ground, and the more I walk across it, the more I realize that I have no idea where I am setting foot. The time had come to “excavate” this territory, Tio’tia:ke, the Mohawk place name for Montreal, meaning “where the currents meet.” This work is an invitation to sit and to listen, to meet with the heart and to walk down paths we can pave and uncover together.
The information I’m looking for is not so much what you can already hear, but rather the stories that reveal what truly happened here. For instance, was there really a collective of people of African descent who met in a secret location and who sparked an uprising in Montreal?
This is the type of information I’d like to get my hands on. To do so, I must roam the city like someone who has never been here before. This is the most difficult part. I know the streets here and I don’t get lost, as opposed to the places where I lost my way but ended up where I needed to go, without expecting to. I need to get lost in Tio’tia:ke.
Why is it important for you to broach this topic through movement?
This whole thing started with movement. BOW’T TRAIL taught me that when we think of dance, we think of dainty, fairy-like motions, but dance can also be raw, earth-shattering, transformative. I need to materialize the movements I imagine right when they burst into my head, such as when the people I meet tell me their stories. When someone speaks to me, I see a choreography in my mind’s eye. When I hear a story, I create a narrative based on the teller’s breath, and I am compelled to share it afterwards.
This is how oral tradition works! Once I’ve heard something, if I hold the movement travelling within me without expressing it, I can become alienated. I need to share it because it becomes a burden. This is truly a process of transformation, of sacred channelling akin to cosmology, connecting the sky and the earth. My body in movement becomes a conduit. When I hear testimonies, they can become trapped in my body, so I need to express them.
This is where movement becomes crucial: there is the historical, spiritual, bodily movement, but there are also social movements. I carry the sum of these movements in a choreographic gesture and in a voice that aims to be heard loud and clear.
How do you develop a project of this magnitude?
Through encounters. They are the bedrock of the entire project. I would never have achieved it without my partners, the ones who have encouraged me to push on, even when times were tough. I’d like to acknowledge every single person who has trusted BOW’T TRAIL with their voice.
Everyone who has welcomed me into their circle, their network, without even knowing me. Everyone who has supported me, here and elsewhere, when the load was too heavy to carry alone. Remember that when I arrive in a new place, I practically don’t know anyone, and after conducting research for 30 days, I have to deliver a performance to communicate what has been entrusted to me with the greatest care.
This is a tremendous responsibility I am carrying today, but I couldn’t have done it alone. “Ampil min chay pa lou,” as we say in Creole: “Many hands make the load lighter!”