The door opened west
With modesty and sensitivity, Marc Boivin performs an autobiographical solo that sheds light on the mysterious architecture of memory.
Bashfully, he walks to the front of an empty stage, as though he was venturing into the land of his own memory. With his hands and words, he summons vibrant light beams from the darkness, erecting the delicate architecture of his life story. Whether by sharing tender childhood memories or by recalling his father’s terrible illness, Marc Boivin bares himself in this autobiographical solo inspired by various conversations and excerpts from his diary. The veteran dancer trades his virtuosity for a humble language of the heart, in a dialogue with darkness and light.
Slowly developed over five years in collaboration with Boivin, the choreography by Sarah Chase is reminiscent of the refined and intricate geometry of a life narrative. Using repetition and superposed movements, words, light sequences, and sound environments, and integrating elements of nature, The door opened west alternates between apparition and disappearance and gracefully celebrates the language of the body, a treasure trove of memories.
Produced by Marc Boivin + Sarah Chase
Choreographed by Sarah Chase
Performed by Marc Boivin with the participation Caleb St-Jean
Soundscape Antoine Bédard
Lighting Design James Proudfoot
Performed by Madeleine Peyroux
Courtesy of Rounder Records, a Division of Concord
Impromptu #3 in G flat Major
Performed by Michelle Mares
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons (2012)
Creative residencies Agora de la danse + Place des Arts
Presented in association with Agora de la danse + Tangente
Thanks to Francine Bernier + Raimund Hogue + Mia Wood + Lloyd House + The Chapman family + Ellen and Robert Silverman + Lucas Liepins + Mackie Chase + Jacinte Armstrong + Edna Boivin + Robert Paquin
Written by Elsa Pépin
Translated by Luba Markovskaia + Jeff Moore
Premiered at Festival TransAmériques, Montreal, on June 2, 2021
Sarah Chase (Vancouver + Montreal)
Sarah Chase, a choreographer and dancer born in Toronto and currently based in British Columbia, first became known as a solo artist, with pieces set to the stage across Canada and in Europe.
She has worked with several great choreographers, including Alexander Baervoets (Belgium), Raimund Hoghe (Germany), as well as Benoît Lachambre (Canada), created pieces for the Toronto Dance Theatre, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, Andrea Nann and Dreamwalker Dance, Robin Poitras and Ron Stewart, Antonija Livingstone, Montréal Danse, and Theatre Replacement. In 2004, she won the Jacqueline-Lemieux Prize, and in 2006, she received the “Festival Prize” at the Munich Dance Biennale for her piece The Passenger.
After creating autobiographical solos A Crazy Kind of Hope for Andrea Nannand and Unmoored for Peggy Baker, Sarah Chase completes this distinctive triptych combining movement and life narratives with The door opened west, which centres on Marc Boivin.
Marc Boivin (Vancouver + Montreal)
A highly sensitive dancer, Boivin has led a brilliant career for over three decades, collaborating with numerous choreographers, including Ginette Laurin, Louise Bédard, Sylvain Émard, Jean-Pierre Perreault, James Kudelka, Tedd Robinson, Dominique Porte, Felix Ruckert, Mélanie Demers, and Catherine Tardif.
In addition to his career as a performer and an educator, namely at the École de danse contemporaine de Montréal, he has created choreographic works with several other dancers, most notably Impact, his first solo piece, that he himself performed, and Une idée sinon vraie… created in collaboration with the Quatuor Bozzini and composer Ana Sokolovic.
With The door opened west, Chase develops a poetics of memory related to Boivin’s childhood memories, with a strong focus on architecture and natural elements. This complex piece combines gesture sequences with specific lighting patterns, illuminating this biographical piece with a bright and mysterious arithmetic.
How did the idea for this solo and your collaboration come about?
Marc Boivin: We met in 1991 and a strong bond of friendship developed, after which we lost touch a little. Five or six years ago, as I turned 50, I was wondering about my aspirations as a dancer. After having loved dancing for Mélanie Demers, whose work is quite strident, powerful and intense, I needed a gentleness, both physically and performatively, an intimate relationship with the stage, the kind of energy I associate with Sarah’s work.
Sarah Chase: Five years ago, on Hornby Island in British Columbia, I was working in the forest on movements linked to a light sequence, and I had a vision of Marc doing this movement. I wanted to teach him the particular phrases. I build elaborate movement puzzles that are very difficult to perform. Mark had to coordinate a sequence of nine movements with his left arm, ten with his right arm and seven with his leg at the same time. Mathematically, that’s 640 variations before he returned to the beginning of the sequence. I knew it would take him about six months to get comfortable enough with this complex phrase to be able to talk about it and do something else at the same time.
My first instructions were done via Skype, and then Marc came to Hornby Island. We spent ten days together, walking and talking in the forest. We learned other sequences inspired by nature, of which there are still traces, and which contrast with the architectural dimension that is omnipresent in the solo. I was already familiar with Marc’s clarity of execution and relationship between his body and space, but he also revealed to me his deep awareness, since childhood, of the architecture around him. In many of his stories, he can describe in detail the architecture of the space, an idea I picked up on and linked with the repetition of illuminated sequences that change context depending on what he’s recounting. His stories can be deciphered differently depending on the various architectural spaces created.
The solo is inspired by Marc’s life story. What criteria did you use in selecting certain events rather than others?
Sarah Chase: I was looking for stories where there was a change in Mark’s destiny or faith, and where his special relationship with architecture is revealed. Whether it’s a small, innocuous moment or a big event, such as when he was playing the violin in the cabin of a music camp and avoided being struck by lightning, protected by the cubicle he was in. The architecture saved him in a way. That’s also when he stopped playing the violin. It was a pivotal moment, when his life changed direction. There is also the moment when he had just auditioned for Pina Bausch and wanted to start a European career; he phoned his father and decided to return to Canada to look after him. His destiny changed in that phone box: a small square again, a recurring motif in the work.
I also wanted to show the emotional complexity of a person’s life. You think you know Marc if you’ve seen him dance a lot, but you discover that his father has slowly lost his physical skills, and that his mother, on the other hand, is losing her cognitive skills, her memory. In the solo, we observe both Marc’s very concrete memory and the emotional deterioration, the freefall of aging.
Marc Boivin: I wrote a diary at Sarah’s request, but did not choose anything from it. The only thing I did was not to censor myself, or to write things down that I thought Sarah would choose. What ended up in the work is miniscule compared to all that was written. In one’s life path, there is a balancing act between the banal and the decisive. We live our lives with the notions of destiny and free will, but we discover twenty years later that such and such a moment was pivotal. During the creation stage, I wondered about those moments in my life that we only touched on, but life is like that: there are things that are more ingrained than others, and some that leave only small traces.
The moving body is superimposed on the narrative and the light sequences. How did you come up with this dynamic?
Sarah Chase: Before becoming a dancer, I was fascinated by the way my thoughts changed as I moved. Later on, I wanted to reveal how memory is stimulated by movement, and how emotions and thoughts are transformed by it. I played a lot with sequences of movements, fascinated by the fact that when you change the context of the narrative, the interpretation of the same movement also changes. It brings me closer to the viewer: we participate together in the game of deciphering the movement, in a new way each time. It gives me a strange feeling of freedom, allowing me to reveal very intimate things without being embarrassed, because I have to stay focused on two aspects at the same time.
In this solo I added a third element, a new layer of complexity, which is the repetition of light. My collaborators, lighting designer James Proudfoot and sound designer Antoine Bédard, have done an admirable job of linking the four elements: movement, narrative, light and sound. This is not my first collaboration with Antoine. His work with sound and music creates moving spaces, states of memory, a cinematic atmosphere that plunges us deeper into the stories and architectures of light.
As a performer, is it a challenge to superimpose the movement sequences onto the narrative?
Marc Boivin: This is a project that I could not have created in a hurry. I first learned the complex phrases by video, then I practiced them here and there, in the Pacific Ocean, in the Sahara desert, during various journeys I’ve made over the past five years. It’s been difficult, but I can still perform certain phrases ingrained within my body, even if Sarah has removed them from the production. The challenge has been to stop doing them mechanically and to add the narrative. Today, I experience the gestures as the audience discovers them for the first time: with a cognitive awakening, wondering which meaning belongs to what. Sarah’s work plays on our perpetual quest for meaning. There is a broad relationship with memory on various levels: areas light up on stage in the same way a memory suddenly lights up, without us knowing why. With the lighting, James Proudfoot creates an interplay that fluctuates between a very Cartesian dimension and a more fluid and nebulous dimension, which acts like memory.