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Dance, Dance, wherever you may be

Dance, Dance, wherever you may be

GUEST BLOG by Harriet Springbett

Back on Planet Earth after Cognac's fabulous 'Mars Planète Danse' festival, I have only one thought in mind: to waltz off to Planet Anywhere with Avant Scène's theatre team at next year's edition...

If you're tempted to do the same, I would recommend the festival preview evening. It's held a month beforehand – in February – and Stéphane Jouan, the theatre director, presents video clips of each show with short explanations. In true French style, the evening rounds off sociably with an aperitif and nibbles.

This year's preview was a show in itself. Held in cabaret-style intimacy within the theatre viewing room, it finished with a shower of confetti, glasses of champagne and an invitation for the public to dance and sing to David Bowie's 'Let's Dance'.

It was also an opportunity to meet the people I'd be seeing a month later at the 'Instant Bavard' chats between public and performers, and at the bar during intervals. These meetings are what bring the festival atmosphere to the separate shows. They're the ideal time to discuss the shows we've just seen – and to speculate on Stéphane's reasons for putting the particular shows together in the same evening.

Dance-cognac

The festival opened officially with Kaori and Hiroshi Ito, two dancers who dance because they're suspicious of words. The Instant Bavard chat, the evening before, allowed us to understand why Kaori decided to include her father – a famous Japanese sculptor – in her performance. The father-daughter relationship is one everyone can relate to, and their exquisite choreography, accentuated by the tirade of questions Kaori fires at her father during the show (why don't we tell the truth? Why do I feel I should work all the time? Why can't I save the world?...), sent a powerful message to the audience.

I didn't think the evening could get any better. During the interval I tasted the delicious soup and hot meal cooked onsite in the theatre reception, and seriously questioned Stéphane's wisdom in programming another show straight after Kaori's performance.

Then the Palestinian dancers of Badke came on stage. Within minutes, I realised I could fully trust Stéphane's judgement. Their performance was a burst of energy that lasted for a whole hour and had me tapping my feet. It was a different world to the first show of the evening. I went home delighted, invigorated and pensive.

The following evenings – spread out over the two-and-a-half-week festival – continued to inspire me. The Instant Bavard chats were a real moment of privilege, allowing us spectators to understand the joys and problems facing choreographers and performers.

The festival closed with 'Relative Collider', a show in which words incite the performers to dance – in direct opposition to Kaori Ito's need to dance because of her distrust of words. In the space of a couple of weeks I'd seen ballet, contemporary dance, hip-hop and a mix of theatre and dance. I'd seen a company of 16 dancers, an old man and young girls. I'd seen the public dancing on stage, and I'd seen a couple dancing naked. It felt like a year's worth of dance experiences, all of them top quality.

If you have an open mind and like surprises, sign up to Avant Scène's newsletter and treat yourself to next year's festival. You can be sure that the surprises will be of excellent quality. And if you're not so keen on surprises, or just want to get into the festival spirit, check out the preview in February 2017. I'll see you there!

For a full version of the festival (and other French cultural comment), see Harriet Springbett's Playground of Words and Thoughts here.