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You Cannes Dance

The last edition of Cannes’ Festival de danse was a kind of mirror of the times. Biennial, it skipped last year’s lockdown but called to account the new incertitude of this season. Director Brigitte Lefèvre, at her last mandate before the arrival of the newly appointed Didier Deschamps, rooted her last program in the metaphoric security of two themes: “earth” (after the other three elements: water, air, fire) and “femininity.” A link with the territory was also essential in the program: in cooperation with the Cannes based École Supérieure de danse, professional students could benefit from masterclasses, the Nice University organized a thematic conference, the city offered films projections and expositions, one of them dedicated to the famous ballerina Rosella Hightower, founder of the local academy.

CCN - Ballet de Lorraine perform “Sounddance” by Merce Cunningham at Cannes Dance Festival. Photograph by Nathalie Sternalski

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In a 15-day program with 28 companies, French and international, we caught two performances representative of the festival's artistic line.

In spite of the difficulties, Lefèvre managed to invite the Martha Graham Dance Company from the US to open the program. Moreover: a photo of one of the company’s dancers, So Young An, was chosen as the image of the festival. After some years absent from Europe, the (good) feeling was that of an evening through the company’s history. The director Janet Eilber chose a program featuring pieces by Martha Graham, opening with the signature choreography “Steps in the Street,” from 1936’s “Chronicle.“ Performed by 10 female dancers in the iconic black dresses signed by Graham herself, it still remains one of the most contemporary pieces in the company’s repertory, perfect to open every show.

Martha Graham Dance Company in “Acts of Light” at Cannes Dance Festival. Photograph by Nathalie Sternalski

In comparison “Acts of Light,” a piece from 1981, looked very “vintage.” Anyway, it was historically interesting and appreciated by today’s audience, the big group of 16 dancers impressed with their sunny costumes. An interesting way to pursue the company’s life is through the “creative reconstructions,” such as “Exstasis,” based on a solo choreographed in 1933 by Graham (who signed also the extensible costume) now staged by Virginie Mécène. While the choreographic future of the company could be exemplified by a piece like “Umbra” by Andrea Miller. Maybe not so original but finely composed and exciting at the same time, with its passionate taking and leaving of four couples, very different lines and colours, styles and costumes.

CCN Ballet de Lorraine in “For Four Walls” at Cannes Dance Festival. Photograph by Nathalie Sternalski

The CCN - Ballet de Lorraine is one of those many companies without a well-defined identity, which may be the reason it has never found international claim. The program reflected this lack of a clear profile, starting with the company’s name “Ballet,” where the repertory is totally contemporary. Nevertheless, CCN is by now one of the few companies to keep Merce Cunningham’s pieces in its repertory. The Ballet de Lorraine performed “Sounddance,” a 1975 piece for 10 dancers and a one musician playing John Cage’s music, especially fascinating for the contrast between the austerity of the choreography and the baroque style of the scenography.

CCN - Ballet de Lorraine perform “Static Shot” at Cannes Dance Festival. Photograph by Nathalie Sternalski

A passionate devotee of Cunningham, Ballet de Lorraine’s director Petter Jacobsson, together with Thomas Caley, created “For Four Walls,” imagining what would have been Cunningham’s “Four Walls,” a lost choreography from 1944. Although too long, the new one is an elegant piece for 24 dancers, shown during a Cunningham lesson in a dance room with barres and mirrors. A total change of atmosphere came with “Static Shot,” a very new piece by Maude Le Pladec. The young choreographer, raised with some of the most radical authors of the French scene, composed an exciting show, half a catwalk half a rave, with a techno score and beautiful dresses by the French brand Koché. Reminiscences from Karole Armitage and Jean-Paul Gaultier’s shows looked like updated quotes or homages. Seeing the long standing ovation at the end of the show revealed a lot about the preferences of contemporary dance’s young audience.

Valentina Bonelli


Valentina Bonelli is a dance journalist and critic based in Milan, and a longtime contributor to Vogue Italia and Amadeus. She is a correspondent from Italy for international dance magazines such as Dance Europe and Dance Magazine Japan. As a scholar her main interest lies in the XIX century Russian ballet, in its connections with the Italian ballet school. She has translated and edited Marius Petipa’s Memoires (2010) and Diaries (2018) into Italian, and she is currently writing essays and biographies about La Scala ballerinas dancing at Russian Imperial theatres.

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