Choreographer Marc Boivin Coaxes Darkness Out of Light

Victor Swoboda, The Gazette, October 12, 2012

His new solo, Une idée sinon vraie…, takes stock commedia dell’arte figures seriously.

For a time during the past decade, Marc Boivin was virtually the Scarlet Pimpernel of Montréal contemporary dancers. Choreographers sought him here, they sought him there, they sought him everywhere. Hardly had he finished appearing in one show than he was in another. Choreographers found good use for the strong-featured, broad-shouldered six-footer, who could show both force and tenderness as needed.

Then in 2009, Boivin had the itch that must be scratched — the choreography itch. For the first time, he performed a solo of his own creation, Impact. Boivin had been choreographing for years for his students at École de danse contemporaine (formerly LADMMI), where he has taught since 1987. There were also a couple of solos he’d made for dancers in Toronto and Winnipeg. Creating Impact, though, served notice to himself at 47, an age when men may start wistfully looking at conquering mountains.

“After a number of years, there are certain challenges you want to go to,” Boivin explained before a recent rehearsal of his new solo, Une idée sinon vraie…, to be presented this month at Agora de la Danse. “I don’t want to become a choreographer as a career change. I want to choreograph in a certain context for certain projects. There must be something that makes me excited or nervous or afraid — makes me really want to be there.”

The impetus in the case of his latest solo was the well-known Montréal composer Ana Sokolović, a member of the music department at Université de Montréal whose compositions were the focus of the 2011-2012 season of La Société de musique contemporaine du Québec. She and Boivin first met during a joint project involving their dance and music students. Beyond that, Sokolović had commissions to compose two string works: one for the 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition and the other for the Montréal-based Bozzini Quartet. As someone who earlier composed many works for the theatre, Sokolović had the idea to combine both commissions to accompany a dance piece. The Bozzini piece seemed a particularly good candidate, since it was conceived in the spirit of that improvisatory, satirical Italian genre, commedia dell’arte.

It’s a genre that people generally associate with buffoonery and lightheartedness. If Sokolović expected Boivin to approach her music in this way, she was in for a surprise.

“In my hands, it’s not fun, because I’m a dark guy,” he said, then let out such a hearty laugh that any darkness in him disappeared. “I’ve been in a few dance films, and I was always this rapist or psycho killer.” (Another hearty laugh.)

“The underside of things always pops up for me. Commedia dell’arte is exuberant and over the top. Choreography for me never goes there.”

So Boivin took some stock commedia dell’arte figures — doctor, captain, Colombine, Isabelle, Pantalone and the Zanni — and put them to serious purpose. As interpreted by Boivin in turn, each character illustrates a part of an individual’s personality at a specific time in life.

“In our lives, we live different chapters and characters. What stays and what was a passageway to access (something else)?

He also interprets the real-life character of Ruzzante, the stage name of the 16th-century Venetian actor and playwright Angelo Beolco. Reading about Ruzzante during a visit to Venice two years ago, Boivin was fascinated by the actor’s ability to keep many different roles in his head.

During the rehearsal, Boivin wore a floor-length hooded cape like a costume out of the Venice Carnival. He stood stone-faced while the Bozzini QuartetClemens Merkel, Stéphanie Bozzini, Isabelle Bozzini and Mira Benjamin — stood playing around him before moving to their onstage chairs and music stands. Boivin strode and stopped momentarily, then turned so that the cape whirled about his waist as he took off again in big strides. To the sounds of jagged strings, he swung his arms wildly. His choreography was not about trying to make beautiful body lines, but about showing mood and personality changes.

The work’s title, by the way, is part of a phrase that Boivin found while reading about commedia dell’arte: une idée sinon vraie, du moins vraisemblable. In other words, even if an idea is not true, it could have a credible appearance. It’s a notion that might apply not just to ideas, but to our perceptions of other people and, yes, ourselves.

To the sounds of jagged strings, he swung his arms wildly. His choreography was not about trying to make beautiful body lines, but about showing mood and personality changes.