When Serge Bennathan walks on stage and thanks the audience for attending Monsieur Aubertin, it is impossible not to connect with him. He is warm and inviting, and right away you like him which makes you want to also like his work.
Monsieur Aubertin takes its shape from Bennathan’s life. For the majority of the show he sits front and center on stage, facing the audience, reading his story off a laptop that’s been patched together by warning tape. His stories are accompanied by musician and composer Bertrand Chénier and dancers Erin Drumheller and Kim Stevenson.
The story he tells is of his own journey towards becoming a dancer and a choreographer, from the moment he told his father he wanted to learn ballet, without even knowing what it was, through his moves to Paris and then Marseilles where he trained and performed before coming to Canada.
Bennathan’s voice is beautiful to listen to. All the warmth of his initial stage presence remains throughout the piece, and he has a wonderful self-effacing humour that comes up as he comments on the events in his own story.
Warmth and self-effacing humour, unfortunately, can only take you so far. Bennathan speaks well, but hearing someone monologue about their life’s journey can wear thin quickly. Perhaps it would have helped if it was a cohesive story, but as is the case with most peoples’ lives, Bennathan’s journey is simply a series of anecdotes, some more amusing than others, strung together because they all happened to him.
The dance itself was somewhat confusing. Combining text and movement is always a difficult feat – rarely accomplished well. In this case, while Drumheller and Stevenson were clearly skilled performers, the choreography rarely supported the storytelling, and instead proved to be a distraction.
The one element that felt entirely cohesive throughout the piece was the music composed, and performed live by Bertrand Chénier, who provided a simple yet evocative underscoring on piano and guitar that created a lovely soundscape to hold the work.
Still, there were some wonderful moments: when Bennathan pulls out a wool leotard he stole from Rudolph Nureyev’s dressing room in a fateful visit when he was young; his wry commentary on the sense of entitlement and invincibility he felt as a child; and the clear wonder he still feels reflecting on the moment he almost didn’t make it into a prestigious dance company.
Unfortunately, Monsieur Aubertin amounts to little more than a series of events, shared by an incredibly likable man, accompanied by seemingly completely unconnected dance.
Monsieur Aubertin with choreography by Serge Bennathan. A Les Productions Figlio produced as part of Chutzpah! Plus in a co-production with The Dance Centre. No further performances are scheduled.