Missionary of dance

After a highly successful first series, Eric Gauthier once again journeys through the world of dance stopping off at London and Cuba before landing at his final destination, his birthplace, Montréal. Juliette Barber discovers some of the highlights when she speaks to Gauthier and Director Andreas Ammer

When internationally renowned dancer and choreographer Eric Gauthier first muted the idea of a documentary series about dance, he was told that “nobody’s going to watch dance on TV”, but a year later it seems that opinions had changed and the SWR documentary Dance Around the World was born. The series features Gauthier and Director Andreas Ammer, a documentary filmmaker with longstanding connections in the arts.

Ammer had always wanted to make a road movie and felt that Gautier would be the ideal protagonist, thanks to his ability to “play to the camera” and his extensive connections in the dance world. “He knows everybody!” exclaims Ammer of the self-professed “missionary of dance”, explaining that in showcasing these “great [dance] adventures”, the audience is treated to not only a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the world’s greatest theatres but also an insight into what is currently happening in the international dance world. The series exploration of multiple cities allows viewers to understand how each community differs in terms of both classical and contemporary dance, “we’re showing dance in all its colours”.

Gauthier makes for compelling viewing, alternating between presenter and performer with ease as he highlights the latest dance trends and talks to performers and choreographers as they share their passion for their work and a glimpse of life in some of the world’s more impoverished cities. Take Havana, in Cuba, for example. Here Gauthier’s joy was palpable as he conveyed how dance has taken on an almost utopian power as an art of the people, with dancers held in as high esteem as doctors. 

Ammer shared the warm welcome Gautier and the crew received in Havana and emphasised that it was important to show what they saw: not only the faded grandeur of the buildings, the streets and the poverty but also how proud the dancers were. “After the episode somebody from Havana told me that they were so grateful that for the first time the city hadn’t been shown as a beautiful Caribbean island, where everybody is lucky,” revealed Ammer. “I thought that maybe we had shown it was too nice there, but obviously not.”

Preparations take place months before the crew travels as it’s important to ensure that “everybody’s in town”, both artists and dance companies, when they visit. The episodes are rich in live performances and rehearsals at some of the world’s most famous theatres, including London’s Royal Opera House and the Bolshoi Theatre pre-War. “This is the holy grail of ballet” exclaims Gauthier, who feels extremely privileged to have been given access to world renowned theatres as well as artists’ “private homes and sacred spaces”. 

Having visited Tel Aviv, St. Petersburg and The Netherlands in the first series, Gauthier was keen to end what is possibly the final series of Dance Around the World in his birthplace of Montréal. The episode was particularly poignant as Gauthier visited L’École Supérieure de Ballet du Québec, where he took his first class as a boy, and his alma mater, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, where he met choreographer Ivan Cavallari and principal dancer Myriam Simon. Gauthier was not only a dance pupil there but also took music and singing lessons, before joining the National Ballet of Canada at 18. It was there that he met Artistic Director Reid Anderson who took Gauthier to Stuttgart, where he became a solo dancer with the Stuttgart State Opera before forming his own innovative dance company Gauthier Dance Ensemble.

Gauthier is understandably proud of Montréal’s rich dance heritage, and for many years young dance groups have contributed to this too. One such group is Company Tentacle Tribe, which along with Co-Artistic Directors Elon Höglund & Emmanuelle Lê Phan creates extraordinary street dance choreographies. “It’s always discovering new styles of movement,“ explains Gauthier of the metropolis, and it’s not purely dance. “Cirque du Soleil, one of the most fantastic enterprises in the world, is based in Montréal – all the creative people are coming out of this town.”

While in Montréal, Gauthier also met Marie Chouinard, the grand dame of Canadian dance, who as a young dancer was known for throwing raw eggs around or auctioning herself off during a piece. Since 1990, she has led her own Compagnie Marie Chouinard in Montréal, where the dancers sometimes appear dressed only in a piece of gold jewellery or with crutches or an alphorn.

Elsewhere, Gauthier caught up with the legendary Louise Lecavalier at her studio. Lecavalier, who attracted the attention of stars such as David Bowie and Frank Zappa, has always sought to combine dance and the avant-garde, and Stations, considered to be her most personal work to date, reflects this. 

Perhaps the most challenging part of the Montréal episode was Gauthier’s interview with the contemporary ice-skating company Le Patin Libre who “take the form of modern dance onto the ice with formation”. The segment took place on the ice, as Gauthier caught up with Artistic Director and skater Alexandre Hamel and skaters Pascale Jodoin and Samory Ba. However, this was a challenge as Ammer doesn’t skate, so the dancers ended up doing some of the filming on ice. “It was crazy and fun!” remembers Ammer.

Whilst each city gives viewers a unique perspective of the local dance world and its interactions with international cultural themes, Gauthier and Ammer are acutely aware that for some cities, especially Tel Aviv and St. Petersburg, their filming captured a unique moment in history that takes on an added poignance, given current world events.

Season one and two of the SWR documentary series Dance Around the World is available to view here: https://www.ardmediathek.de/sendung/dance-around-the-world-mit-eric-gauthier/Y3JpZDovL3N3ci5kZS9zZGIvc3RJZC8xNDQ3