Estelle Clareton's S'envoler: Flights of freedom

Flights of freedom

Estelle Clareton's ever-evolving work reflects her ever-altering life
Photo: Stéphane Najman

Montreal choreographer Estelle Clareton and Création Caféine fly the friendly skies in S'envoler

While the idea that life informs art isn’t particularly original, the unexpected and vast range of circumstances that are transformed into art is. For Estelle Clareton, the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year brought a long-desired gift: Her adopted son arrived almost a year in advance, bringing new and ardent meaning to her then work-in-progress. "Life takes on a [new kind of] sense," she says of his arrival.

The choreographer’s latest production, S’envoler (Epsilon 5/24 in her 24-piece Furies series), explores the migration of birds and speaks to a desire for and the realization of taking flight. Drawn largely from the courage to say "yes" and the ability to inhabit the decisions we make, the spirited and witty show tracks this symbiotic relationship between choice and action. "My work reflects my life," Clareton admits.

Versatile virtuoso

Clareton has great charm in conversation and loves to laugh – particularly in rehearsal, she admits. An artist adept in theatre and dance, she originally hails from France, but she’s been in Montreal for 23 years and she founded her company Création Caféine 11 years ago.

"I became an artist here. I have the impression that my artistic, poetic life is possible here, not in France," she says. Yet she still feels the pull of identity. Since her start here she says she’s been tagged in the dance milieu as the "girl who does theatre," or in theatre circles, "the girl who does dance." She’s since distanced herself from those condescending views.

S’envoler opens the Agora de la Danse’s 20th anniversary season. The year’s programming stokes interest with a range of artists – George Stamos, Lina Cruz, Hélène Blackburn’s Cas Public, Paul-André Fortier, Deborah Dunn, Héléne Langevin’s Bouge de là, Emmanuel Jouthe and Roger Sinha – reflecting the dynamism of the Montreal dance community. Francine Bernier, the Agora’s artistic director, in her 18th season at the theatre, credits creative residencies and a long-term commitment to artists as keys to its success. The investment reaps results, she says, and "the public follows."

Clareton is clearly no slouch creatively either. Bernier cites her "intelligence and positive energy" as singular. With S’envoler, she’s featuring a robust ensemble of 12 dancers, actors and acrobats. She’s is not afraid to mix things up with this collegial and expansive bunch: "It’s a dream cast," she says.

Kathy Casey, Montréal Danse artistic director and long-time creative advisor to Clareton, comments that Clareton’s versatility is not only a plus, but that "she’s very autonomous, and knows how to work in these [areas]. It gives her great liberty."

Unleashing liberty

At the core, S’envoler is above all else dance, and in this piece there is a big shift on a movement level from more familiar off-balance qualities that have marked previous creations. Casey notes the "driving physicality and an exciting looseness" that promises to set Clareton’s proposition apart from so much else on the scene.

"The legs have started to mobilize," Clareton explains, jumping out her chair and demonstrating, her legs and arms moving freely. "I have the desire to dance," she chuckles. "But only in rehearsal."

As Clareton describes it, the flock seeks co-ordination and harmony, but never quite achieves that unity. "It’s a chaotic dance, and it may seem disorganized, but it’s organic, sensorial and it’s not steeped in emotional theatricality," she says. She talks about a fugitive quality, a hesitancy that’s elastic, of duets that are a paean to the restless. Éric Forget’s soundscape of bird songs accompanies the passel of moving bodies.

Starting the Furies series five years ago, Clareton didn’t know how it would end. "It’s a path," she says. Other productions in the opus have offered raging, desperate, dark, even monstrous, perspectives. In this Epsilon instalment, Clareton is cultivating joy in the face of all the difficult challenges surrounding us on the world stage. "Human beings are capable of making beautiful things," she reflects. "Five Furies later, this one resembles me the most."

At Agora de la Danse (840 Cherrier), Sept. 15-18 & 23-25

Posted in