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Posted on April 21, 2016 in Curator's Notes
The Body as a Political Force: the work of Thierry Smits

ReVoLt/photo Hichem Dahes

Our Executive Director Mirna Zagar introduces the work of acclaimed Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits, whose company makes its Vancouver debut May 5-7 with ReVoLt:

I first met Thierry Smits some 27 years ago. As a young dance artist yearning to make his mark, he made his way across Europe to meet dance presenters and discuss with them the potential to collaborate. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with his vision and ambition, and his amazing certainty in how he saw what he wanted as an artist. There was no arrogance or any attitude, in fact a genuine humility. He was excited to be embarking on this, for him, new path and adventure as he was certain he did not want to dance, but to create. Two years later, in 1990, I presented his first solo work, La grâce du tombeur, which launched him onto the international stage. His passion for movement, and his sense and awareness of the body and its physical presence, was obvious from the outset.

Today, Thierry has established himself firmly on the Belgian scene as well as internationally. His work reflects his interest in the arts in general, in politics, concern for the environment, humanity. Frequently controversial and often going against the tide and the trends in contemporary dance, he has confirmed that his voice is equally articulate whether he creates pure dance, or more performative works. His artistic choices in this regard have often been seen as controversial yet one thing is constant: his works explore our relationship to the body as an object of desire, pleasure and finity. Politically very astute, he considers the body as a political force and space, “the only free territory left to us.”

He is careful at making choices, he considers the dancers and what they have to offer, he guides them with minute detail as he asks and directs them to move through space. Since establishing Compagnie Thor, Thierry has created over 30 works, most of which I have had the pleasure and honor to see firsthand and some in rehearsals too. It is amazing to watch him in his own studio, a huge white space which can easily accommodate an auditorium of 100 plus a stage larger than our Faris Family Studio at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Located in a predominantly Arab neighbourhood in Brussels, it is an oasis of peaceful, artistic contemplation amidst a bustling community. Of the works in the past I recall Red Rubber Balls and V-Nightmares as more rooted in the performative side, juxtaposing works such as D’Orient and To the Ones I Love and Clear Tears/Troubled Waters, which speak to our sensuality and a strong, rich desire for beauty and harmony, yet never crossing the line of “overdoing it”. The works are witness to the rigour required of the dancers as much as innovation when it comes to movement, spacing and phrasing – complex as these may be, they always seem effortless and simple. Regardless of the direction he will take the work – contemporary, pop, queer - his works present him as a genuinely frank and generous personality.

Thierry Smits

Thierry’s more recent work, Cocktails, is a highly provocative, contemporary cabaret-style work, which although eccentric is at the same time very intimate; this subversive show takes on the actual political issues our world faces and offers an ironic commentary of the times we live in. The work was voted by Belgian critics as the best production in 2014.

ReVolt (which comes to Vancouver May 5-7) was created last year at the request of Australian dancer Nicola Leahey. Fair-haired and petite, she often feels she is stereotyped and in Cocktails experienced how far she can push herself as performer and move past the gender stereotyping she has frequently been exposed to. She asked Thierry to create a work which would be about asserting female strength, the yearning of generations of women to free themselves of the chains in which society has at times imprisoned them even when celebrating them. Thierry accepted and the result is an intense solo work, radical, even minimalist in approach. He celebrates Nicola’s defiant personality as much as her physicality and ability as performer. The dance is one of persistence, never giving up, and this is supported by the design. Pushing the point, the choreography is looped, perpetual, portraying her strength, intent, desire.

 

It’s also a comment that women today still continue to face challenges; and that perhaps while in many respects and in many corners of the world women’s position in society has improved, there are still places where the worth of a woman is hardly worth the mention (her costume references combat attire, alluding in part to the Peshmerga women fighting ISIS). This is a bittersweet challenge for Nicola as she strives to endure, and she does so remarkably – yet the message remains that for many women around the world,the battle to be valued on an equal footing is here to stay for some time to come. To try and persist is to win, and to survive.

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The Dance Centre presents Compagnie Thor | Thierry Smits: ReVoLt
May 5-7, 2016, 8pm at Scotiabank Dance Centre, Vancouver

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Photos: top - Nicola Leahey in ReVoLt/Hichem Dahes; bottom - Thierry Smits.

 

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