Like so many artists, Montreal-based choreographer Marie-Josée Chartier saw most of her work opportunities disappear due to the pandemic, including a trip out east.
But while Chartier’s planned Maritime tour and residency of petites danses was cancelled last year, the current low COVID-19 numbers and relaxed restrictions in Nova Scotia have allowed her to present a version of the work with Halifax’s Mocean Dance in April.
“When we started talking last summer that it looked like nothing was going to happen, they said maybe we could just do a Halifax version,” says Chartier by phone from Halifax’s north end on the final days of her 14-day quarantine.
A project Chartier has been working on since 2014, the original version of petites danses consisted of eight short works of approximately ten-minutes each. Referring to them as a “collection of short stories,” it was a definite departure from her previous work.
“It was quite a turnaround when I started exploring the idea because I have always done full-length work,” she says. “It’s like a novelist writing short stories.”
More than a new way of approaching her choreographic practice, though, Chartier also saw the collection’s flexibility, delving into the heart of human relationships while exploring the concepts of how we ‘see’ music and ‘hear’ dance.
Inspired by short works of contemporary music she admired, Chartier saw the opportunity to develop various choreographic ideas for each. The result is two different dances set to the same piece of music from the original petites danses collection.
For the Halifax show, Chartier has also created a new dance for five of Mocean’s advanced dancers and a solo piece she had been working on with Mocean’s co-artistic director Sara Coffin.
“The solo will feel new as well, so it is almost two new works,” says Chartier with a laugh. “It breaks the pattern a little bit because usually, they are always in pairings of two.”
More than variations on a musical theme, Chartier also takes a couple of steps further in adapting petites danses to each group she works with and in using actors alongside dancers.
It’s a gift to see the work continue to evolve and transform with each new group of artists.
“I have a way of working with people who are not professional dancers, and I am interested in what they bring to it,” she says. “It’s a gift to see the work continue to evolve and transform with each new group of artists.”
Looking forward to getting into the studio following the required isolation after arriving in Halifax, Chartier has used the time to prepare for the show but is ultimately thankful for the chance to present petites danses given how few opportunities there have been due to the pandemic.
“It feels surreal,” she says. “We are really, really grateful to be here. It is a lifeline.”
Chartier is just as excited to present the show in front of a live audience.
“Right now, it is a real gift to be able to go to the theatre or an art gallery,” she says. “So, hopefully, audiences come to see it to lift their spirits and their soul.”
The first show from Mocean Dance before a live audience in sixteen months, Mocean Dance’s co-artistic director Susanne Chui confirms the production is up and running despite the everchanging nature of pandemic restrictions. Should COVID protocols change the planned livestream will proceed.
“We’re grateful for the support of our audiences who have joined us online this year, but we believe that now it’s time to come together to share the exhilaration of live performance,” says Chui.
Mocean Dance presents petites danses at Alderney Landing at 8:00 pm on April 9 and 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm on April 10, with the 8:00 pm show on April 10 live-streamed. Visit moceandance.com for tickets and information.