PRESSE EMPIRE OF FLORA
Michèle Murray’s luminous tenacity at the Montpellier Dance Festival
02 juillet 2022 | PAR Gerard Mayen TOUTE LA CULTURE
Intelligence of composition and intelligence of the dancers’ performance skills illuminate EMPIRE OF FLORA, a new piece by the Montpellier-based choreographer.
Jean-Paul Montanari, director of the Montpellier Dance Festival, is one of the maintainers of the great Cunningham tradition, hailing the founding influence of the New York master on a great lineage of Western contemporary dance. We believe that this plays a role in his attachment to Michèle Murray’s work. This mature choreographer, Franco – American by origin, studied dance with Merce Cunningham. Today it is from Montpellier (a city in which are based no less than twenty significant companies) that she develops a body of work that is wonderfully indifferent to all fashionable effects.
EMPIRE OF FLORA is her latest creation for the forty-second edition of the Montpellier Dance Festival. On stage, there is a woman at the turntables, and four men. We fully agree with Michèle Murray’s comment on this subject: ‘The cast was not deliberately planned as such (according to gender issues or other); however, in hindsight, this solution feels right.’
To us, this quotation resonates subtly with the overall logic of this work: EMPIRE OF FLORA seems magnificently mastered, at the height of compositional intelligence. But at the same time, this intelligently thought-out composition results in a simple luminous and light texture. The composition we are talking about weaves together two principles that one might think are antagonistic: on the one hand, the fixing of very exact rules in a pre-determined composing of the dance, and on the other hand, space continuously left to instant composition.
Returning to Merce Cunningham, we remember some of his thoughts, and his saying, in substance, that he prefers deploying devices on stage that allow the beauty of the world to reveal itself, and not to try to impose forms supposed to represent beauty. This is what we feel in EMPIRE OF FLORA, which is due to a delicate intelligence of the performing of the dance (also due to the specific way choreographer Michèle Murray has of directing the dancers, underlining the great trust that characterizes the artistically very mature relationship between these four young men and herself).
Concerning the dancers, Michèle Murray requires technical rigor, as well as their acceptance to take on the great responsibility of choice in the instantaneous writing. The piece makes them settle very patiently in its texture; as well as, in the same way, they observe long quiet moments on many occasions. The dancers generate this piece, as much as they let it live. There is never any spectacular overkill, which overloads so many other dance pieces, trapping the relationship with a spectator subjected to a predictive emotion (Batsheva anyone?)
The movements are nevertheless dynamic and light, unfolding in a great ease of gravity management. The gestures have the time to exist in their essence. Most of the scores are performed individually – except for a few duets and lifts – in a vertical dance and in a rather cosmic circulation of the whole. This dance is clear without being voluble… The essence of this piece lies in the active co-presence of people developing the finesse of a language simply and precisely. Nothing more to add.
The relationship to the music has a lot to do with this. Coming from the bubbling techno scene of the region, DJ Lolita Montana produces a beautifully aerial set, devoid of any cliché, even if the sounds, by nature, inspire a radiant energy. In all good Cunninghamian principle, the four dancers do not have the mission to come and ape the music. Certainly, they will also take the path of a progressive, asymptotic elevation, but which is above all a matter of wide, translucent, and respectful breathing.
Watching EMPIRE OF FLORA, we felt that this aesthetic lives somewhat cut off from our time, even from the world, as if maintained in a garden of elegance. But in a dance landscape that seems so busy looking for itself without finding itself, this form of distance still ended up seeming infinitely right, tenacious, and practically irreplaceable.
OFFSHORE MAGAZINE – Jean Paul GUARINO – July 2022
After creating her successful dance piece WILDER SHORES in 2020, Michèle Murray creates EMPIRE OF FLORA and testifies of her still strong attachment to choreography as an art form as well as of a respectful emancipation towards its history.
The DJ enters the stage and, standing behind her turntables, immediately imposes a rhythm of sustained electro loops, as if to put dancers and spectators in condition, initiating a form of suspense. What in the world will the dancers be able to do on such music which doesn’t need anything else in order to transmit irresistible energy?
Two music pieces later, one dancer appears, followed by a second one, then a third and a fourth, nonchalantly, as if to contradict the rhythmical music, as if to tame it, to master it, at the least not submit themselves to it. In the manner of a warm-up, the contrast between the explosive energy of the turntables and the contained energy of the dancers is sensual. Here, we are not on a dancefloor, and the desire for battle, the wish to let everything out, the drive towards dancing in unison … all this will have to wait. The dancers are going to offer themselves with parsimony, with measured power, as a dancing oxymoron. We suspect choreographic rules are being respected, and then quickly forgotten, even going unheeded; desire doesn’t obey to anything, each dancers has his unbridled path and manner, his own baroque vocabulary, his own history. Like sketches, duos also appear, or it might be more apt to describe the dancers as pairs, or couples. The encounters between the dancers are perfect, there is nothing conventional nor ambiguous about the duos, everything exists for the dance only. Lifts, jumps, Michèle Murray loves abundant dance, and she choreographs it lovingly.
There are also moments of rest, so as to avoid any narrative, and in order to stick with the subject, namely dance, once again. Right until the end, the dancers, mastering and restraining their bodies, -bodies which are subjected to a choreographic composition that seems to have no syntax, but its own effervescent logic, -, the dancers will resist the exuberance and the vital lyricism of the musical whirlwind, so as to better impose their own power, until the stage backlight, until nightfall.
I rarely linger on technical aspects nor on individuals, but I would like to point out once again, in this new choreography as in her former one, the refined lighting of Catherine Noden, the quality of DJ Lolita Montana’s set, and the improbable tender feeling induced by these four strange dancers seemingly appearing from who knows where.
RES MUSICA MAGAZINE
uly 2, 2022, by Delphine Goater / Montpellier Danse, clubbing or not clubbing
Two stages, two atmospheres, both reminiscent of clubbing and partying, at Montpellier Danse, with Ohad Naharin’s creation ‘2019’ for the Batsheva Dance Company and the performance EMPIRE OF FLORA, by Michele Murray.
For EMPIRE OF FLORA, her new creation at Montpellier Danse Festival, the Franco-American choreographer based in Montpellier, Michèle Murray, confronted a male quartet on the stage of the Théâtre La Vignette with a DJ set by the young Lolita Montana. Dancers and DJ each evolve in their own universe, and the meetings between dance and music occur incidentally, during unisons or sudden accelerations. Four very good dancers, four different masculinities on the bare stage. With a sustained attention to each gesture, a quality of movement and a feline energy, the four dancers test themselves, confront each other, compare themselves, as in a fashion show. Next to them, the DJ mixes a set whose intensity increases and then decreases. There is a certain vanity in this fascinating parade of male appearances, from the pose to the posture. But Michèle Murray does not fall into the trap, concentrating on movement alone, in an imperturbable objectivity.
SPINTICA MAGAZINE – Marie REVERDY – July 2022
After WILDER SHORES presented during the 41st edition of the Montpeller Danse Festival, Michèle Murray continues her work inspired by artist Cy Twombly’s paintings. In Empire of Flora (1961), the color pink predominates. One feels, left on the canvas, the trace of the ardor and the heat of the gesture of painting. Empire of Flora is also the title of a painting by Nicolas Poussin (1631) referring to an allegory of spring and fertility used in Greek-Roman mythology.
Cy Twombly and springtime in its abundance
It all starts with the theater space, lit in pink, and the live music of DJ Lolita Montana, whose turntables located at the side face the empty stage. The first dancer enters. He focuses mainly on ample and open arm movements, from time to time we see a 5th ballet position appear, as an allusion to the classical training that Michèle Murray followed during her dance education in Düsseldorf. Working on a horizontal axis, pivoting the torso as if to embrace the totality of the here and now, he will be joined by the other dancers who will enter one after the other.
On this dancefloor, it is forbidden to touch each other; on this dance floor, each performer explores movement, repeats a gesture, sketches a choreographic phrase before deploying a rhetoric. A dancefloor consisting of solo dances, before a few glances are exchanged (without theatrically playing this exchange), before a few unisons emerge (without us having the impression of a rendezvous) and, finally, before a few duos appear (without these being presented as the apotheosis of spring). The piece abounds in choreographic details, inscribed in the bodies and in space. Dazzling references seem to emerge from the vivacity of the bodies. Everything seems to be planned as much as fortuitous, like the definition of life given by Jacques Monod, born between ‘chance and necessity’. There is something jubilant in this piece, something delightful. Spring has no landscape, it has no smell, it has no face, it is a contradictory state, situated somewhere between power and grace.
Merce Cunningham and jubilant freedom
Michèle Murray claims the heritage of Merce Cunningham with whom she trained. The geometric structuring of the stage, the facial expression and the performing modalities are the most visible aspects of this heritage. Of course, there is also the idea of freedom lying in constraint and rigor, as a means of emancipation. Finally, there is the absence of a subject: the choreography takes its starting point in the relationship between the dancers’ bodies and the stage, and is constructed through a generative, combinatory process. To define her approach, Michèle Murray speaks of instant composition and likens it to how language functions: a stock of vocabulary composed by each dancer and rules of composition (syntax) that are then applied onstage. From there, the number of possibilities becomes infinite, and creativity becomes dialectic, between choice and necessity: ‘As soon as we start establishing certain rules, the following rules are put in place almost by themselves. And from a certain point on, it is no longer we who direct the piece, it is the piece that directs itself’ explains Michèle Murray during an interview given in February to the CCN – Ballet de Lorraine.
The music has a certain independence from the dance, in a form of dialogue that, like the dancers between each other, will move from one relationship to another, from one preposition to another: with, besides, against, despite.
The end of the piece arrives, something returns, like a cycle, but not identically…
PRESSE WILDER SHORES
Festival Uzès Danse – June 19, 2021,
| By Antoine Couder.’Toute la culture » Wilder Shores (of love)
The audience was not mistaken, the choreography Wilder Shores could be a dance classic, in its way of padlocking space, of working with ‘strict choreographic rules and a dedicated vocabulary’ enabling the irrigation of the choreography and ensuring holding the distance during the whole creation phase. These necessary constraints and rules educate the dancers in this foreign language which is the nascent choreography. They create a basic movement register from which they will begin their conversation and build connections between each other. By the end of the rehearsal phase, while maintaining its essence, the piece will be able to evolve during each iteration, from the smallest to the biggest improvised movement. Choreographer Michèle Murray requires and makes sure that the performance is sifted through her creative imperatives. One of these imperatives is the distant memory of a painting by Cy Twombly. It might be useful to look at it, to access the scope of this romanticism of the frontiers of forms that one perceives here almost instantaneously.
Metal Machine Box
In this three-part performance, a dance sextet is projected into a brutal and continuous musical deflagration, a high-pitched vortex that hardly surprises, as one quickly sinks into it along with the dancers, under the live control of Gerome Nox, the composer. Nox seems to have kneaded Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Box’ into an impetuous storm whose blast gradually tears through space, precisely the space of those wilder shores about which the piece speaks. In this blast of sound and fury, the dancers are guided by a superior force, and battle against it at the same time. The tension between constraint and movement ignites their expressive power as they engage in an attempt at performance, ‘an instant – composition governed by a choreographic grid of strict rules’ (M. Murray).
The dance swarms with these dancing ants so busy surviving that they ignore the very modalities of their existence. The ballet is nourished by restrained, but never robotic steps, and the movements are instructed by the conventions that the dancers have digested. These dancing ants seem to be composed of an exoskeleton, a respiratory trachea and antennas. Insects in action, indifferent to the tragedy of events, they concentrate on the sole gestures that guarantee their survival. Their dance is dark yet at the same time, aerial, ‘improvised’ in tiny time-spaces that are barely distinguishable, where life progresses in the shadows and the clamor of the elements. According to the choreographer, there are no more than five minutes out of the sixty or so that make up these ‘Wilder shores’ that are not malleable and transformable into a personal performance, in these minute variations that mark the intimate freedom of these ‘dancer-insects’. What strikes us then, is perhaps the movement’s and gesture’s capacity to dissociate the dancer from the ambient musical deflagration, also supported by the scenography (an empty stage inhabited by light) which manages to plunge us into this idea of survival. In the long run – perhaps after twenty or thirty minutes? – a vibration materializes, as if coating the movement, creating closeness and intimacy within the group. The whole choreography is built around the idea of the duo. The duo seems impossible in the first part of the piece, during which each dancer battles to maintain the choreographic order. But then this impossibility gives way, and a duo crystallizes: two dancers occupy the empty stage by themselves, offering each other a magnificent experience of contacts. It’s one of these encounters full of erotic cerebrality that the excitement to materialize what we could not perceive has finally thickened. Indeed, the duo was already there, just underneath the movements, and now it appears, amplified, like a close-up, perhaps slightly obscene. From the first part with its idea and imaginary of choreographic performance, we pass into an attempt to record emotions, like cinematography.
Around this intersectional passage, from insect to vertebrate, from animal to ‘animate’ i.e., ‘danced’, nothing really filters on the sound field recording. No sound variation or ‘change of scenery’. The group had disappeared and now returns, but this impromptu change of scene does not destroy the atmosphere or inflect the musical temperature. Again and again, the rule is unalterable, and nothing seems to indicate that this will change. After the duet, the entire sextet comes back. It is like going back to the eternal and prancing beginning, though this time around, in a more organic mood. In the semidarkness, pupils dilate, the gestures bring the dancers closer. This time, possibility of contacts materializes joyfully. The dance literally frees itself; it is no longer the object of a dispute between freedom and constraint. Instead, it escapes before our eyes, in the pure jubilation of its own desire and, finally, in its own dissolution.
DANSER CANAL HISTORIQUE – THOMAS HAHN / September 2020
Montpellier Danse 40 Bis : Creation of ‘Wilder Shores’ by Michèle Murray
From Merce Cunningham to Cy Twombly, unpredictable itineraries for six dancers between desire and discipline.
With Michèle Murray, who began her career in New York primarily with Merce Cunningham, the search for the great Merce finds an enthusiastic response. This is especially true in ‘Wilder Shores’, in which six dancers move in a totally open, free, non-hierarchical space which knows neither center nor periphery. A point in space is a point, and that’s it. The dancer can wander wherever he or she wishes, or so it seems.
Wilder Shores? Let’s not try to understand; this title is a utopia, a burning desire, a fantasy inscribed in a painting by Cy Twombly – ‘Wilder shores of love’ – that is better approached through emotions than through forensic analysis.
Michèle Murray’s ‘Wilder Shores’ expresses in equal measure the cleavage between the desire for freedom, as well as the world against which one must rise in order to succeed in regaining one’s own wild essence. The six dancers provide no evidence of such liberation, and thus this piece remains as enigmatic as Twombly’s painting.
Murray’s new creation primarily benefits dance, not speech, and this is, of course, a wise choice. It is better to bear witness to a shore one wishes to attain than to go wild there. In this logic, ‘Wilder Shores’ distinguishes itself by absolute rigor, implacable precision, and infallible discipline. And yet, this precision in composition and execution opens up spaces of freedom, and perhaps even a few skylights to the unexpected. The principle of random choice was important for Merce. In ‘Wilder Shores’, we encounter what the choreographer calls instant composition, where everything seems to be invented in the moment. Yet nothing is certain for the audience. When two dancers collide, is it an accident or a choreographed event? It’s probably a foreseen possibility, with no obligation to come true.
Some artists choreographed everyday gestures. Cunningham, on the contrary, invented the most improbable movements, to the point of absurdity. His vocabulary is both a toolbox and an invitation to dig deeper and deeper into unexpected approaches. For Michèle Murray, who enjoys stirring up this toolbox, it inspires a plethora of ways to walk: jerky, gliding, knees bent, hands glued to the thighs in order to turn and twirl better…
Everything starts with a first dancer who enters, in blue socks, with his feet turned out, thus indicating that the universe of the great liberator still has its roots in classical dance! But from then on, everything can be transformed, invented.
In their seemingly random crossings of the stage, individuals observe and meet each other, face to face or in parallel, and tune in to one another, during the time needed to charge oneself with shared energy, and then to set off again towards new human adventures. And it works! After a first part where the desire to touch one another does not come true, after a long pause during which the composer Gerome Nox reigns alone on the sound and choreographic space, a couple emerges and launches into research on the supports offered by the other, supports offered by his / her thighs, bust, back, as if it were a promise towards shores of love. Here the woman can lift the man, and of course be lifted by him. Here too, modalities break free from all tradition. At the end of the performance, everyone ends up together, as if in a dance class, as if to prepare for new adventures, one next time, on shores that they hope will be wilder…
OFFSHORE / Jean Paul GUARINO / 24 SEPTEMBER 2020
We were there, what about you? Montpellier Danse 40 Bis / September 2020
After a re-creation followed by a revival, it’s the turn of a 2020 creation. At the Agora Cunningham Studio in Montpellier, the latest dance creation by Michèle Murray – ‘WILDER SHORES’ premiered Wednesday evening. We won’t mention Twombly, whom Michèle Murray refers to in the program to inform us about her position as an artist. The title of the piece, a hint towards the choreographer’s work methods, was chosen above all in order to boost her choreographic writing, and to dig deeper into her demanding artistic course. And it works! From the first moment onwards, a lone dancer appears, who is then joined by a second one, then a third, until six dancers find themselves spinning on stage! Six free electrons, unless they are lost electrons, illuminated by a radical, cold white light made up of white, green, and blue. Six electrons enveloped in a deeply telluric sound, a sound so powerful that one can hear neither their breath nor the landing of their numerous jumps. Here as well, everything works towards enforcing the expressions of silhouettes, of the bodies, and of dance. If in this ‘first part’, we noted the energy and charisma of the little Jimmy Somerville – in fact, the dancer Baptiste Menard in-, during the ‘second part’, a superb dancer duo took place – performed by Marie Leca and Alexandre Bachelard. The stage was bathed in an atmosphere à la Dan Flavin, in a purple hue that Americans love. This ambient purple then turned into a raw blue, undressing the flesh a little more, illuminating the dancers’ beads of sweat. The whole choreography states that this isn’t a duet and that these two aren’t a couple either, but instead reveals how 1 + 1 in fact equals 1. Because it was him, because it was her. It’s beautiful. The duet is then followed by a quick return to reality, just in order to reassure us or console us, telling us that other encounters, all encounters, are possible. All is well that ends well.
L’ŒIL D’OLIVIER / Olivier Frégaville-Gratian d’Amore / SEPTEMBER 23, 2020
In her latest piece, the Montpellier based choreographer Michèle Murray has never been so close to the dance of Dominique Bagouet. Presented as part of the Montpellier Dance Festival, the day after the re-creation of ‘So Schnell’, ‘Wilder Shores’ has everything of the young distant cousin. Disturbing similarity! A simple wall of yellow stones separates the Montpellier Cunningham studio from the Agora Theater. While the day before, the dancer Catherine Legrand breathed new life into Dominique Bagouet’s choreography, Michèle Murray, in her own way, explores the choreographic paths between abstraction and the need to anchor her dance and her movements in a more concrete narrative. Inspired by ‘The wilder shores of love’, a work by the American painter Cy Twombly, the Montpellier-based artist traces her path, stretching time, multiplying unexpected movements, iterative gestures, accompanied by the music of Gerome Nox.
A unique choreographic compositional style
Clothed in black costumes contrasting with the white, immaculate floor, six dancers invade the space. Entering one after the other, disappearing at will, coming back to haunt the stage, they do not keep still. A solo, a duet, each dancer follows his own score. Bodies gauge each other, look for each other and then ignore each other. There is nothing linear about Michèle Murray’s writing. It consists of a multitude of words linked together by a strict grammar. Michèle Murray, who studied at Merce Cunningham’s studio in New York, is interested in movement for movement’s sake. She has one movement following another, at times even overrunning each other. Her choreographic prose, although formal, is abundant.
Play of light.
Enveloping the empty space with bright lights, just as Begoña Garcia Navas does on ‘So Schnell’, the Montpellier-based choreographer, with the collaboration of Catherine Noden, highlights her dancers’ bodies, the energy they deploy in order to inhabit the space and give life to these imaginary shores hovering on the border between dreams and reality. With ‘Wilder Shores’, Michèle Murray has created a piece that is more complex than it seems. However, it still lacks a little polish and practice to totally carry away and seduce. A show in the making!
ATLAS / STUDIES
Danser Canal Historique / Gérard Mayen / June 2018
Seen on Wednesday 27 June (in two parts) at the Studio Bagouet as part of the 38th Montpellier Dance Festival -ATLAS / STUDIES by Michèle Murray.
Along with a beautiful cast and set in an ideal location, the choreographer composes an atlas of knowledge and mischief in touch with the zeitgeist.
Nothing ordinary ever happens in the Bagouet dance studio of the National Choreographic Center in Montpellier. Designed in its time by the choreographer Dominique Bagouet, who gave it its name, this theater is the perfect architectural space for dance, in which the audience is included. It’s incredibly stable, vast and calm. Yet at the same time, it seems full of possibilities.
One could not have dreamt of a more appropriate setting for the idea that Michèle Murray works with in her choreography ATLAS / STUDIES, created for the Festival Montpellier Dance Festival (38th edition). Ten studies are performed in two separate series on the same day, each study with its own duration (none lasting longer than twenty minutes) and with a cast of seven performers dancing in different combinations for each study. This means a vast palette in the number of performers on stage (ranging from duets to septets) and genres. It’s a little like a card game which is continually being reshuffled. The very short interludes between studies are clearly marked by the stage being completely emptied (left with only Catherine Noden’s rough and velvety black lights). At the start of each study, the protagonists step onto the stage and take a firm place, often in a quiet frontal and central position. From this point on, movement variations begin and develop through procedures of contamination or proliferation. This commitment to things is an event in itself (…)
(…) Following the principle of inventive relaunch with each new study, the performance is often captivating, at times exhilarating. Each study is an opportunity for reshuffling the cards, constantly rethinking and reimagining new combinations, interrelational modes, observational skills and sharing of energy levels. Something is happening…
This quality as well as the dancers’ extremely powerful stage presence creates excitement und suspense. There is always something at stake when there is suspense. It is quite impossible to recount the abundance of motifs, situations, and techniques performed by these dancers. A playful intelligence emanates from this composition, as well as giving us the opportunity to enjoy the very different physical and moral personalities on stage. One could say that powerful choreographic personalities make their mark on these games that are not entirely without theatricality.
The choreographer claims to have searched for the ‘mental state of the performer’, where feeling is more important than iterating. The dancers must ‘incarnate’ and not ‘play -act’. The improvisation practiced it in almost all studies requires this mental state. This goal has also been achieved with an agreeable suspense. In these studies, one finds the essence of our current zeitgeist in a contemporary performance. And we thus often hold our breath.
Lise OTT, Montpellier Dance / June 2018
How do bodies tell the story of our times? How do they resonate with the world? The fundamental questions Michèle Murray asks in ATLAS / STUDIES are also questions of dance and territory, memory and mythology. The French – American choreographer who trained in ballet in Düsseldorf and contemporary dance in New York with Merce Cunningham, and who is now based in Montpellier, has decided to combine the demands of her abstract and narrative choreography with a reexamination of current dance forms. In 2012, she founds PLAY, a dance company open to other modes of artistic expression while creating projects concerned with the body, with movement and with choreography.
This company defines the framework of her research. Guided by the inspiration of the ‘Mnemosyne’ atlas, a collection of images by art historian Aby Warburg, she developed the concept of a personal choreographic atlas consisting in ten short pieces – the last three choreographed especially for Montpellier Danse. As independent pieces coexisting with various musical compositions, including those of composer Gerome Nox, they are the result of a rigorous and inventive improvisational process, capable of reshuffling the cards of modernity and emancipating themselves from any academism. Pieces to live through and experience, they draw the atlas of a choreographer engaged in a never-before-seen marathon of pure dance, full of energy and joy.