Review: Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin, at The Dance Centre until March 28

I didn’t know what to expect going into this work. Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin is unlike any other dance work you are likely to have seen. It evocatively combines storytelling, original composition and musical performance, and dance into a seamless whole. I went with a couple of friends who are not necessarily warm to contemporary dance, and they also loved it. While profound, the piece is also very accessible and comprehensible.


(photo credit Michael Slobodian)

The piece is, among other things, an extended homage to both his teachers and classical dance virtuosos like Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov, as well as many others whose names I do not know so well. The love and appreciation and admiration that Bennathan expresses is indeed heart-warming.

Bennathan’s first dance teacher, Monsieur Auburtin in Metz, France, introduced him to Nijinsky via pictures of the impresario dancing in Giselle. The effect is life-changing and incredibly profound.

Wiki Commons picture of Nijinsky in Giselle.

Perhaps French elegance, if presented coldly, can be offputting. That is a classic stereotype, but Bennathan presents elegance with a warm face. The sound of his voice is a true pleasure to hear. The track his life is taken is one of coincidences and chances grabbed. But make no mistake, Bennathan is passionate and earnest about art and about artistic expression.

Throughout the evening, the composer Bertrand Chénier played on electric guitar and piano, and at one point one of the dancers played the violin. The music was a natural component of this work.

What made the night even more special was after the show, when Howard Jang, of the Canada Council for the Arts, awarded Serge Bennathan the prestigious Jacqueline Lemieux Prize, for his work in dance in Canada. Having seen the work, I am not at all surprised of Bennathan’s reputation as a teacher and mentor and choreographer. Bennathan expressed a clear love and appreciation for Canada as a country, a place, like Marseilles, where he feels he truly belongs. So much artistic development and innovation is driven by immigrants who have made a conscious decision to bring their talents to Canada. Bennathan founded the dance company Les Productions Figlio.

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