What goes up, must come down. Now, what was out, must come in. Parkour and Freerunning, once the territory of Neanderthals, soldiers and Jackie Chan, who all employed similar survival skills, is taking to the concert stage.
Perhaps Dance Works Rotterdam was the first to embrace that concept, mostly due to artistic director Andre Gingras, who has been something of an artistic adventurer for most of his adult life. As a student of theater, English literature and contemporary dance in Toronto, he wanted to expand himself, primarily as a dancer. And that meant New York City, the ultimate mecca for the young Canadian.
Almost immediately he landed a scholarship at the Paul Taylor studio, where principal dancer, Christopher Gillis, became a mentor. Andre eventually moved on to the Doris Humphrey and Doug Varone companies. But it was on a European vacation five years later that he auditioned for theatrical wizard Robert Wilson, who was creating a major work for the Weimar Festival in Berlin.
It was an immediate click with his work,” Andre recalls. And thus started a four year period where he became a regular contributor to Wilson productions. “Bob is very collaborative. He’s very, very curious about what young artists have to say. He has a huge love and respect for dancers and is really open to your input.”
Andre admits that the experience transformed him as an artist. Since it didn’t matter where Wilson artists lived, Andre slept on the couch in some friends’ apartment in Rotterdam.
Slowly he began dancing with small Rotterdam companies, then making his own work. It started to “take over his life” and Dance Works soon followed.
But he never stopped searching, with forays to India, North Africa and the Middle East. “My goal was to ‘hybridize’ and expand the art form, to really look at what other things could be integrated,” Andre explains.
That included martial arts, especially Brazilian capoeira. Or medical subjects, where he used the “beautiful, interesting vocabulary” of Terret’s Syndrome for his first solo piece, P17.
And the Netherlands sponsors Dancing on the Edge, a special festival in Amsterdam that focuses almost entirely on dance in the Middle East and then sends them through a network of cities.
Through the festival, Andre was connected with a group, El Funoun, in Palistine. He did workshops on contemporary dance technique. But the company was based in folk lore and had young dancers who were trying to look at “what would be the most authentic contemporary manifestation of their indigenous dance.” So they delved into choreography, with great success.
By now it was obvious to Andre that he saw dance everywhere he turned. Freerunning had become a hot commodity in parts of Europe. It’s an offshoot of Parkour, a new movement form that came out of the French army and became an art form of “getting from A to B with the least amount of flourishes, but the most effective way.”
Freerunning “embraced the flourishes and fun things.” It’s almost the same vocabulary, but it’s “a bit more spectacular.” In 2006, Andre was already asking, “Wow — why can’t we put this in a theater? Why does it have to be on the street? It’s such a beautiful language.”
So he hired a guy “to teach these insane things” to his dancers. Although he called the dancers “amazing” in absorbing the information, he realized that he had to put limits on the technique.
“You don’t do it once for a video — you have to do it every night.”
But it worked. Now it’s part of the repertory and his new dancers have to embrace those skills. But he’s careful, noting that “we’re a European dance company and we have workman’s comp people looking over my shoulder. I can’t have them jump four meters down onto concrete. And you can’t do another show like that the next day.”
Pittsburgh audiences can see for themselves this weekend (see CrossCurrents Listings for more information) when Dance Works Rotterdam brings Anatomica to the Byham Theater.
Well, part of it. Andre originally envisioned a three-part series about “the body on display. Why do we display the body? How do we display the body?” He thought it should be three pieces, but only had a good idea for the third one, so he decided to work on that first.
“The body is that magnificent instrument that can do all these extraordinary, remarkable, virtuosic things that fly through the air,” Andre explains of #3. “So it’s very acrobatic.” Next came #1, a beginning segment that shows “why do we show the body. Well, very often that’s tied to sexual drive, the desire to find a mate, to procreate. So we look at courtship rituals, mating dances and online chat room experiences — every that makes us put ourselves out there.”
And what about #2? Andre thinks that he’ll make it in 2014. He quips, “I’m in no rush.”