Renowned dancer and choreographer Sylvain Émard’s infectious fusion of traditional line dancing and contemporary dance, Le Grand Continental ®, has been presented at locations around the world, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, South Korea, New Zealand, and Chile. After presenting his show in the 2012 Fringe Festival, Émard is back in Philadelphia with Le Super Grand Continental, an even bigger public dance spectacle.
Presented as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival, Le Super Grand Continental will see a cast of 200 non-professional dancers take over the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, performing all new choreography and eventually inviting the audience to join them as the performance space becomes an open-air dance party. FringeArts talked to Émard about the inspiration for the show, his memories of the 2012 Fringe Festival, and what we should expect this year.
FringeArts: What inspired the first Le Grand Continental®?
Sylvain Émard: As a kid, the first time I danced outside my home was at our church basement where there were line-dancing classes. Maybe that is why I was and still am fascinated by line dancing. To a point where I was often incorporating it (a bit more sophisticated I must say) in my stage work. Then I came up with this idea of choreographing a dance piece that would mix contemporary dance and line dancing. At first I thought that this would just appeal to Montréalers because of the great popularity of line dancing here. To my surprise, I realized that although line dancing is not that popular everywhere, there is a desire for the people to get involved in an artistic project and dance is perfect for that. It has no language limitation. It is somehow universal despite the specificity of the style.
FringeArts: What do you remember about your show in Philadelphia in 2012?
Sylvain Émard: I have great memories of the performances in Philly. We had a fantastic group of participants and a great team of professionals. Very committed and enthusiastic. I remember it was raining on our first evening show but for the cast there was no question of cancelling the show. We waited a bit for the rain to calm down and danced in the rain. It was magic. For this coming edition, we are expecting some dancers from the 2012 edition to take part again this year. I am looking forward to seeing them again.
FringeArts: What will be different about this show?
Sylvain Émard: It will be a whole new version, except for the Philly Soul section that was especially created for the city in 2012 and that I will keep in this year’s show.
FringeArts: What’s it like performing in one of these shows?
Sylvain Émard: The energy that one feels when dancing in the show is amazing. You experience something so much bigger than you and you feel supported by it. Sharing the joy of dancing with so many people is something very special.
FringeArts: Why do you like working with non-professional dancers?
Sylvain Émard: Someone that struggles to get the steps but really works hard and finally gets it is fantastic to watch. As professionals we sometimes lose touch with what brought us to dance and being among those non-professional dancers who are there simply because of their love of dance is very refreshing. Non-professional dancers remind me why I love dance so much. Also witnessing the progress they make throughout the process is something very gratifying for me.
FringeArts: What part does the audience play in the piece? How do different audiences react in different cities? What’s a memorable piece of feedback?
Sylvain Émard: During the show the audience is all around the dancers. Right after the show we invite people to join a dance party on the performance area and it is always great fun. I remember on an afternoon show in Philly, there was a newly wed couple and their friends who were at the top of the stairs taking pictures and when they saw the party they came down and started to dance with us then almost everybody started to dance in line a choreography I’d never seen but obviously everybody knew and spontaneously performed.
FringeArts: How do different audiences react in different cities?
Sylvain Émard: In every city the reaction is the same. No matter the culture, the participants experience the same excitement and emotions. Same for the audiences. There is an obvious sense of pride to achieve such a challenge. It also allows the people to somehow reconnect with the city they live in.
FringeArts: Thanks Sylvain!
—Christopher Munden & Alyssa Kerper
What: Le Super Grand Continental
When: September 8 + 9, 2018
Where: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Choreographed by Sylvain Émard
Photo by Maya Daoud