The Festival TransAmériques de Montréal reopens its doors to the world


After two years of reduced scope necessitated by the pandemic, FTA is once again becoming a truly international forum for cutting-edge theater and dance.

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Now in its 16th edition, the eclectic and thrilling cornucopia of avant-garde dance and theater that is Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques returns with a vengeance this year with 23 shows from as far away as Nigeria, Brazil, Greece and South Korea.

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Contrast that with the devastating first year of the pandemic, which saw the festival more or less shut down except for a handful of online events.

Last year it was able to become operational again, but travel restrictions meant it was confined almost exclusively to Canadian artists.

The new artistic direction team of Jessie Mill and Martine Dennewald has clearly taken over (from Martin Faucher) at a difficult time, with the lingering effect of COVID on the performing arts industry.

Speaking to the Montreal Gazette 12 days before opening night at the FTA office — a hive of quiet, focused activity — Mill describes the mood of the audience ahead of the festival.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” she says. “A lot of our small and medium shows are almost sold out. But in terms of ticket sales, we started later, in mid-February. Normally we start selling in December, and normally we’ve sold 95 % of our tickets (to date).

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Because of the pandemic, says Mill, “habits have changed a lot. People don’t book their tickets as early as they used to. But I think we’re doing pretty well. So far, so good.”

FTA artistic directors Martine Dennewald, left, and Jessie Mill.
FTA artistic directors Martine Dennewald, left, and Jessie Mill. Photo by Loving Filion

One of the big changes Mill and Dennewald are making to FTA is a decrease in European content in favor of artists from, say, Africa and South America. They also aim to build on last year’s uptick in Indigenous participation, which was partly the result of this necessary focus on Canada. “We also want to work with indigenous artists from northern Europe, Australia, Chile,” says Mill.

Mill anticipates the shift in focus leading to more pieces that use simpler means to achieve their effect. “Generally, the work that is done in Africa, for example, is done with less means in terms of equipment and funding.”

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As an example, she cites Traces, by Étienne Minoungou from Burkina Faso.

“He’s a man on stage with a musician, and he speaks to African youth about all the potential of Africans. It’s very simple, but it’s really strong – stronger than a lot of things I’ve seen recently.

But for those for whom FTA means, as it often does, bizarre and mind-blowing spectacle, Mill has a reassuring message: “We will always be interested in technological innovation. … Don’t worry, he will always be there.

Étienne Minoungou's one-man show Traces gives voice and hope to the poor.
Étienne Minoungou’s one-man show Traces gives voice and hope to the poor. Photo by Véronique Vercheval

Choice of FTA

Reincarnation (May 25 to 28, Jean-Duceppe Theater at Place des Arts): The festival’s official opening piece, this colorful dance performance by Nigerian choreographer Qudus Onikeku poses a mythical world juxtaposed with all-too-real violence in the streets of Lagos. Inspired by Yoruba philosophy, it features 10 dancers and two musicians playing a vibrant mix of Afrobeat, hip-hop and funk.

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Holoscenes (May 25 to 29, Esplanade Tranquille, Ste-Catherine and Clark streets). Montreal’s recently opened public square hosts this living installation by Los Angeleno artist Lars Jan. It is a giant aquarium containing submerged inhabitants going about their mundane daily activities. Both a warning of things to come and a celebration of adaptability. Free.

Civilization malaise (May 28 to June 1, Prospero Theater, 1371 Ontario Street East): Étienne Lepage, whose Logic of the Worst recently performed at Centaur’s Wildside Festival, is teaming up with Alix Dufresne, co-creator of the brilliant tax evasion dance piece Hidden Paradise. It’s a “philosophical vivarium” in which a bunch of tourists arrive at the theater with no regard for decorum. Performed in French; English transcription available.

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The Holoscenes installation is a human aquarium visible for free on the Esplanade Tranquille.
The Holoscenes installation is a human aquarium visible for free on the Esplanade Tranquille. Photo by Lars Jan

Elenite (June 1 to 4, Jean-Duceppe Theater at Place des Arts): Irresistibly eccentric Athenian director Euripides Laskaridis returns to FTA after his 2018 hit Titans. In this show, a papier-mâché volcano presided over strange burlesque characters. This time, a giant wind turbine blasts various weirdos, including a prehistoric beast and a smoke-spewing creature. Performance without words.

The conquest of the beluga (June 3 to 5, Plage de l’Horloge, Old Port): The Gaspé company Théâtre À tour de role sets up on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in this outdoor show, which is inspired by 150 years of parliamentary uproar over policies concerning beluga whales. The sounds of these majestic sea animals themselves provide perhaps more meaningful counterpoint, as does the subtle inclusion of an Inuit perspective. Performed in French.

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Qumma (June 5 to 7, VOX, contemporary image center, 2, rue Ste-Catherine Est): Drawing inspiration from the imagery of icebergs to evoke the beauty of Nunavut, Iqaluit artists Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Vinnie Karetak also employ the traditional Greenland mask dance (uaajeerneq), remarkably demonstrated by Williamson Bathory in his latest show, Kiinalik: those sharp tools. Performed in Inuktitut and English, with transcription in French.

My name is Muhammad Ali (June 7 to 9, Théâtre de Quat’Sous, 100 av. des Pins Est): In the play by Congolese playwright Dieudonné Niangouna, the life of the legendary boxer is paralleled with the struggle for the dignity of people of African descent. It was originally written for the performer Étienne Minoungou, who, in a careful line-up, himself takes part in this year’s FTA with tracks (June 3 to 5, Maison Théâtre, 245 Ontario Street East), a powerful solo piece that gives voice and hope to the powerless. Both shows were presented in French with English surtitles.


Transamericas Festival takes place from May 25 to June 9. Ticket prices range from $20 to $62; reduced rates available. Call 514-844-3822 or visit

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