Three decades of inclusive dance works
The year is 1989. As the decade draws to a close, Hélène Blackburn, a rising figure in the second generation of contemporary dance creators, decides to found her company. The name she chooses,
Cas Public, is an expression of her desire both to distance herself from the myth of the omniscient choreographer, and to gather a diverse group of artists and artisans around a shared
choreographic research endeavour. For Hélène Blackburn, creation is a collective act, and dance is a group art form characterized by mutual commitment and close social ties.
The path taken by Cas Public is without precedent in the Quebec professional dance landscape. These days, the company is viewed as a world leader in dance works for children and young audiences,
but, in the mid-90s, it was on a much different trajectory. By that point, Cas Public had already produced and performed four shows for adult audiences: Les porteurs d’eau (1990),
Dans la salle des pas perdus (1991), Les régions du Nord (1993), Bestiaire (1994), and Suites furieuses (1995).
With Suites furieuses, the company would gain a definitive foothold in Europe and would travel all over Quebec under the aegis of a new network of presenters: La danse sur les routes du
Québec (DSR). The work made an impression with its vigorous movements, surgically precise gestures, physically engaged performers, and, most of all, its premise: the raging desire to live and
love, despite all the bumps in the road, communication difficulties, and social obstacles.
The bold approach taken by the company’s choreographer, Hélène Blackburn, echoed ably onstage by her incandescent performers, explains why Cas Public was entrusted with the role of ambassador for
contemporary dance in Quebec. A mission it gladly accepted and that would lead it to places it never expected.
If you take a look back at Cas Public’s works over the last 30 years and review them in chronological order, the outlines of a quest come into focus: namely, to make appealing works featuring
accessible, inclusive, and high-quality dance. This ambition has acted and continues to act as a mantra both in the studio – the private setting where the choreographer comes together with
performers and designers to work on the creation of new works – and in the boardroom, where the organization’s strategic choices are discussed and adopted. This includes the 2005 decision to set
down more permanent roots as a company, hire dancers on salary (between five and nine a year, depending on the needs of the company’s projects), and give Cas Public the research and creation
facilities required to match its ambitions. This decision, which involved a considerable amount of financial risk, would propel the company to the forefront of dance for young audiences as the
year 2010 approached.
Since then, the company has toured for about four months each year, with most performances taking place outside the country. With two or three shows on the go at any given moment, that’s more
than 100 performances every year in various contexts: school matinees, evening performances for the general public, or weekend performances for family audiences. France, Norway, Belgium, the
Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are some of the most frequently visited international destinations.
The young audience effect
At the urging of presenters from the DSR, who were eager to develop an audience for contemporary dance, Cas Public dove into the creation of a work for young audiences in 2001. This foray into
the world of children meant an immersion in the world of fairy tales, and the end result was Nous n’irons plus au bois, based on Little Red Riding Hood. The show is a free
adaptation of the tale as found in the works of Charles Perreault and the Brothers Grimm, and its choreography draws on theatre to present the meeting of a wolf and a red hood and expose a whole
series of childish fears. It was performed more than 300 times for young audiences in Quebec and abroad. Its success demonstrated that young audiences were interested in dance, while also drawing
attention to the fact that works geared to them were quite rare, and a new path opened up before the company. Cas Public would try to follow this enticing alternate route while continuing to
appeal to the general public.
From 2002 to 2008: Different works, different audiences
In the 2000s, the company pursued two parallel objectives. In addition to its shows geared to adults (Petite Étude sur le courage (2001), Courage mon amour (2002), and
Suites cruelles (2008), all co-produced with Danse Danse), it brought out three works for young audiences. Each show targeted a different age group, using the categories current in youth
theatre as a model.
Barbe Bleue, created in 2004 for children 9 years and up, was the company’s breakout moment. The work revisits Perreault’s tale and rehabilitates the title character’s reputation as a
cruel husband in a tasty and zany mix of free, untrammelled choreography and onstage action that keeps young audiences on their toes with surprise effects and stage tricks. The show’s three-year
tour opened a number of doors for the company, most notably at the Opéra national de Paris, which has since played host to all subsequent works by Cas Public.
In 2006, Journal intime struck a nerve with teenagers, a notoriously difficult audience. The theme no doubt had something to do with it: love with a capital L, the first stirrings of
sensuality and desire, dreams of being together forever and of… revolution. The show’s set-up commands attention: A main platform populated by seven performers and an onstage piano accompanist.
Against the backdrop of a Bach soundtrack that amplifies and echoes the sound of plucked strings, the choreography features on-pointe work and frequent duos that are imbued with a savage
romanticism, an edgy sensuality, under lighting that moulds the performers’ bodies. Functioning as connecting points between fiction and reality, images projected on a screen and chunks of spoken
word that elicit confessions of love from the performers onstage cascade into the danced narration. Journal intime ran for four years and was performed at most international arts festivals for
children and teenagers.
In 2008, the multidisciplinary project Le cabaret dansé des vilains petits canards re-engaged with young children. An encounter between the ugly duckling of Andersen’s tale and
Odette, the swan from Swan Lake, forms the basis of the plot. The former dreams of becoming a swan, while Odette wants to become fully human. Six performers and an onstage pianist have a
grand old time in the spirit of 1920s German cabaret with a series of dance numbers, songs, and sketches, some of which are absolutely compelling. If it’s a question of maltreatment and
resilience, empathy dominates in this delicate mix of humour and seriousness, reality and illusion, dance and theatre.
Although the work generated great enthusiasm, the company halted its run after two years, due to Hélène Blackburn’s desire to bring dance back into the foreground and reconnect with a more formal
approach, one more firmly anchored in movement and in the dramatic nature of the dancing body. Putting an end to audience fragmentation and aiming for a higher artistic standard without
jeopardizing the company’s engagement with young audiences are two priorities that inform the direction taken by this new cycle of research and creation.
Since 2010: Betting on an inclusive and unshackled style of dance
With the dancing body and the language of dance once again the defining factors in its research and creation process, a path of endless possibilities lay before the company. Without missing a
beat, Cas Public produced seven works in short succession that benefited from the support of co-producers. They were all widely performed in the years that followed, with the exception of its
latest show, The Monsters (Fall 2019).
The projects making up this new creative cycle draw upon the Western classical repertoire for references that enrich the dramaturgical work with added layers of meaning. This softens the barriers
between dance genres, styles, schools, and techniques, between disciplines and eras, and between audiences. Creation becomes the site of unusual, even improbable meetings, and ends up presenting
the world as it is and imagining it in a different way: halfway between ballet, contemporary dance, and urban dance; between classical music or opera and the scratching effects of a DJ; between
stage languages, sign language, spoken language, and the universal language of dance; between the primordial archetype of two lovers and the reality of teenagers in the era of LGBTQ; between
adults, adolescents, and young children, discovering self-confident Cinderellas or Little Red Riding Hoods coming to grips with their destiny.
A repertoire in constant (r)evolution
Variations S (2010) set the tone.  This show for audiences aged 10 years and up revisits the world of Diaghilev’s Ballets russes and takes the frenzied pulse of its extravagance by
drawing inspiration from choreographies that have preserved contemporary resonances. The eight dancers sizzle with energy and intensity, and at times display a turbulence that recalls Nijinsky in
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The choreography hues closely to the soundtrack, which is made up of snippets of key works by the Ballets russes, mixed together in a contemporary style
featuring sampling and scratching.
GOLD (2011)  bases itself on Glenn Gould’s seminal recording of the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach to reach all theatregoers 4 years and up. The gamble succeeds. The dance
seems to emerge from the piano: The performers glide upon the notes of the keyboard, tumble along in playful pirouettes and feats of daring, and then regroup in closed formation, tapping their
feet in unison and bursting into virtuosic passagework. References to the everyday world of children (objects coming to life, school uniforms, and mimicry) help cement the relationship with the
audience. This work for five dancers features a series of short sequences that reproduce the contrapuntal techniques at work in Bach’s music. Performed in its entirety at the 2013 conference of
the International Association of Performance Arts for Youth (IPAY), the show expanded the company’s touring territory in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Asia.
Cas Public celebrated its 25th anniversary with Symphonie dramatique (2014), a show for all audiences 10 years and up.  Taking William Shakespeare’s masterpiece as its starting point,
the work uses the mythic couple of Romeo and Juliet to evoke seduction, unchained passion, the thirst for life and the fear of death, emotions that resonate with adolescents making the troubled
journey between childhood and adulthood. The soundtrack blends opera and ballet music on the same theme, with Prokofiev’s ballet serving as a key signature for the choreographic score. The dance,
full of nervous energy, is tense throughout, and seems to be at the breaking point, multiplying impetuous pas de deux and extravagant passagework. In the ensemble movements, a warlike energy
spearheads an onslaught of passion that evokes the brutality of combat, the weight of tragedy. In this contemporary interpretation of impossible love, or cursed love, the eight dancers are all
Romeos and Juliets whose quest for love butts up against cultural, linguistic, and religious divides.
Suites curieuses (2014) also marked Cas Public’s 25th anniversary, this time with a work for young children with adult appeal.  In a form marked by colour and onstage surprises,
dance, music, animation, and props vie for attention in a contest of agility, subtlety, and complicity. At the heart of this multiple-entry narrative arc is an untenable chassé-croisé that pits
three men (the three wolves) against a woman (Little Red Riding Hood) who’s seen it all. Here, the dance employs a gestural vocabulary enriched with sign language to guide and shape the
meaning of this multilayered story.
9 (2016) is for all audiences 9 years and up.  The work takes on the exuberance of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9, composed long after he went deaf. It tries to communicate the symphony’s
overall feeling by adopting the viewpoint of one of the company’s performers who has suffered from a hearing impairment since his youth. In this closed universe, imbued with gravity and emotional
intensity, it is he who leads the dance like a coryphée, directing the motions of the five accompanying performers according to how the spirit moves him. The work amplifies the insidious
syncopated and metallic drumbeats of the symphony’s second movement to create the physical impression of vaulting bodies that are swept up into executing long sequences of halting, repetitive,
and irregular movements, all finely tuned to a gestural vocabulary drawing on sign language to produce a marked effusiveness. Video clips of a hearing-impaired child caught in an environment he
perceives as cacophonous remind us of the exclusion experienced by those who are different, who hear differently. Children come on stage and sit down on a row of small chairs, in visible
anticipation as they wait for benevolent human presences to enter.
Not Quite Midnight (2018) is also for all audiences 9 years and up.  Contrary to many ballet versions and adaptations of Cinderella, it draws on the evocative power of dance and
theatre to deconstruct the myth of victimhood and emphasize the spirit of resistance and resilience. Divested of fairy-tale decor, the choreography unfolds in a cloud of vapour, produced onstage
by smoke machines that bring to mind, “Once upon a time, in a time of spells and legendary tales.” In ballet shoes, high heels, basketball shoes, or bare feet, the performers veer from one circle
of light to another, combining elegant ballet figures with hand gestures framing facial expressions. Landmarks projected on a large screen at the back of the stage situate the spectator in the
narrative setting and orient them with regard to the characters, whose roles are interchangeable. Cinderella can appear in the form of a female duo or as a male soloist, while a trio of shirtless
dancers in long skirts and high heels represent the two sisters and the mother-stepmother. Small houses that light up, mechanical birds beating their wings in the night: everything contributes to
an atmosphere of fairy-tale magic adapted for the present day. Children onstage are invited to play with these objects among other things.
The Monsters (2019) celebrated Cas Public’s 30th anniversary in a very special way.  Meant for family audiences, this show could not have been possible without the exceptional
contributions made by its lighting designer to the creation process. Her study of light after the masters of chiaroscuro forms one of the main threads of the choreography. The show’s staging is
designed to facilitate and boost the movement of light onstage while using the figure of the monster to evoke and conjure up all sorts of fears. The fears that populate the fairy tales and long
nights of childhood, and that vanish in the blink of an eye (as we are reminded by the comic book that slowly worms its way into the narrative); fears of a more bizarre aspect, unsettling but
immediately assuaged; fears real or imaginary, fears that continue to haunt us as we age. Amidst the night-time scenery, the lighting uncovers an uninhabited, perhaps gutted building, picks out a
lost alleyway, creates an endless hallway underground, zeroes in on the workshop of a Flemish painter. The five performers (four men and one woman) remind us of alchemists with their ability to
make light appear and disappear along with everything it reveals or conceals: shadows, shapes, human faces, rhythms of breathing bodies, fleeting time, night melting into night. The onstage
presence of the Montreal music trio Dear Criminals lends an air of humanity, sensuality, and vulnerability to the action in an experience akin to a psychedelic trip, swept along by the
choreography that weaves between shadow and light.
Three decades of Cas Public
Over a period of more than 20 years, marked by luck, risk-taking, opportunity, self-interrogation, and artistic rupture, Cas Public has carved out a niche in Quebec and across the world by
charting one of contemporary dance’s last unexplored territories: namely, the space where childhood embraces adulthood. It imbues this space with the magic of dance, with shows that reveal
themselves layer by layer like Russian dolls, guided by performers of astonishing virtuosity, physical eloquence, and stage presence. In conjunction with long-term collaborators (especially in
music and costumes), the stage becomes a welcoming place for dance, a jewel box enclosing and revealing the dramatic nature of the dancing body, its power to evoke emotions and participate in a
sensitive and intelligible reflection on the state of the world, with its shares of light and shadow, its weight of humanity and resistance.
 A co-production with the National Arts Centre
 A co-production with Montreal’s Place des Arts
 A co-production with the Théâtre du Bic (Bas Saint-Laurent), the Tanzhauss nrw in Düsseldorf, and Montreal’s Agora de la danse.
 A co-production with the Maison des arts de Laval (Laval, Quebec) and the Agora de la danse (Montreal).
 A co-production with the Festival Méli Môme (France), the Opéra de Reims (France), the Théâtre du Bic (Quebec), the Opéra de Saint-Étienne (France), and the
Maison des arts de Créteil (France).
 A co-production with Montreal’s Place des Arts.
 A co-production with the Kopergietry in Ghent (Belgium), Spect’Aer Rimouski (Quebec), and Montreal’s Place des Arts (Quebec).
 A co-production with the Agora de la danse (Montreal), Ville d’Alma Spectacle (Quebec), and the Teatro Cucinelli de Solomeo (Italy).
 A co-production with Montreal’s Agora de la danse and a Quebec lighting designer, Lucie Bazzo.