Still dancing at 70: Montreal's Paul-André Fortier shows how it's done

Not many professional dancers are still on stage past their 40s, but at the age of 70, Paul-André Fortier is performing his last dance for Festival TransAmériques.

Veteran dancer's 70th birthday gift to himself — and to Montreal — is one last dance

Paul-André Fortier is performing his final dance piece June 1 to 3 at Festival TransAmériques. It's a gift to himself and his audience for his 70th birthday. (CBC)

The demands of professional dance mean that, with rare exceptions, stages are filled with young, athletic, limber dancers.

Paul-André Fortier is one of those rare exceptions. The veteran Montreal dancer and choreographer has been a key figure on the city's contemporary dance scene for decades.

This weekend, at the theatre and dance Festival TransAmériques, Fortier is performing his latest — and last — choreography, Solo 70.

"It's a piece I wanted to create to celebrate my 70th birthday because there are not that many dancers dancing that late," Fortier told CBC News.

Fortier may not be leaping around the stage as he did when he began dancing in the 1970s, but this work is demanding. The sweat pouring off him as he moves nonstop for a full hour is testament to that.

"I strongly believe in the poetry of the aging body," he said. "I think it is a mistake to think that dance is only for powerful, young bodies."

On a starkly lit stage, there is no denying Fortier's age. He lists to one side. His back is slightly stooped. His body bears the history of injuries from close to half a century of dancing.
Paul-André Fortier has been dancing for nearly half a century. (CBC)

"I think we can feel the experience, the history," he says. "You dance with who you are. And who you are communicates with the spectator. And so the spectator feels your experience, your rapport to life."

Solo 70 a good-bye

Fortier's life in dance has been a rich one. He's created more than fifty works. High points include the 1980s, when he and other choreographers, including Edouard Lock and Ginette Laurin, turned Montreal into a new dance capital.

In more recent years, his Solo 30x30 brought him to a wider audience. In it, he danced for 30 minutes a day for 30 days, in unexpected locations — on a bridge in Newcastle, England, even on the rooftop of a shelter in a train station parking lot in France.

Now, with Solo 70, Fortier is saying goodbye. This is his last work for his company, Fortier Danse-Création.

"I thought it would be nice to do a last ultimate solo for the company."

He's not going quietly. He brought in an actor and an electric guitarist, both half his age, to keep him company. Moments of silence are punctuated by screeching guitar.

As his co-creator and director Étienne Lepage put it: "He is game. He makes it easy, because we can really try anything."

And yet, Lepage is well aware of the challenges Fortier is facing.

"I can tell he is suffering," Lepage says. "But he is making fun of it, and he is dancing with it. He is not trying to act as if it's not there."

It is part of what makes watching Solo 70 such a poignant experience.
Paul-André Fortier said he created Solo 70 to celebrate his 70th birthday on stage — a feat performed by very few dancers. (CBC)

"It is all that you have accumulated in your life, the bad and the extraordinary as well," Fortier said, "That is what makes you who you are, and people read this when they watch you perform."

Add to this the knowledge that this really is an adieu, that Fortier is closing a chapter in his life, and in Montreal's dance history.

His final bows on Sunday night really are final bows.

Paul-André Fortier performs June 1, 2 & 3 at The Édifice Wilder as part of FTA Festival TransAmériques


About the Author

CBC's Anna Asimakopulos covered Montreal's arts and culture scene for longer than she can remember.