If you can’t wait for the winter solstice to get into the swing of things, here’s some good news from the Washington Revels. The Silver Spring-based community arts organization will hold a special autumnal event that combines live music and dance on Sunday evening in Bethesda. And with a stellar Canadian musical duo plus dance master Pierre Chartrand on hand, the Québécois Concert & Dance promises to be an early holiday gift for fans of folk music, social dances and the community traditions for which the Revels are known.
“This little event is a microcosm of what we usually do,” said Greg Lewis, a member of The Washington Revels since 1991 and its executive director since 2005. “It’s designed to be, first of all, a fun event, but it’s also intended to give people a taste of what’s forthcoming.”
What’s forthcoming, of course, is The Washington Revels’ 35th annual Christmas Revels at D.C.’s Lisner Auditorium, this year infused with the winter traditions of Quebec. The December show will take audiences on a snowy trip to Trois-Rivières in southern Quebec, a voyage complete with step-dancing lumberjacks and traditions from many lands.
Before that can happen, choreographer Pierre Chartrand, the Montreal native and dance historian who was featured onstage during the 2008 Christmas Revels, will be in town to teach this year’s cast some new—and old—moves. After Chartrand delivers these exclusive workshops in traditional Québécois dances (and lumberjack moves) that have become his trademark, he’ll stick around to give the public a chance to get in on the learning, dancing and fun.
“The audience will be seated for a concert of traditional violin music, and there will be dance cameos by Pierre, so there will actually be able to see the art of the finest example of French step dancing in the world,” Lewis explained. “They’ll have that to go on, to get their toes tapping—and then they’ll be able to exercise those toes after intermission.”
Because that’s when the social dancing—swing, contra, reels, quadrilles and what Quebec natives call “kitchen dances”—starts to heat up.
“We start with a short concert,” explained Chartrand. “After that, we push the tables and chairs and I call the dance for two hours.” He’ll do a dance demonstration in between, showing moves that he’s been collecting and perfecting for four decades.
“In the ’70s, we did ethnographic surveys and I met the great dancers, callers, musicians of Quebec,” recalled Chartrand, who studied dance at the Sorbonne in Paris. “After meeting all these people, it became a passion for me.”
He and his wife, Baroque dancer Anne-Marie Gardette, raised their son and two daughters in a home steeped in the arts. “Our house is always full of music,” he said. “Alexis is our oldest, and they all dance and sing; since they were young, there were parties with singing and dancing!”
These so-called “kitchen parties” are a staple of the Québécois folk tradition, but as the jovial Chartrand puts it: “Sometimes it’s in the kitchen, sometimes it’s in the living room. It’s a party. We have fun!”
That’s clearly his agenda for Sunday evening’s performance/dance. And Alexis Chartrand, Pierre’s son, will perform with his fellow fiddler Nicolas Babineau during the concert phase of the event.
“The first part will be an actual concert, an hour long,” Lewis explained. “That will feature these two young musicians who just released a wonderful CD, performing traditional Québécois tunes in a combination of two fiddles, with one of the fiddlers sometimes playing guitar.”
Both Chartrand and Babineau have extensive musical backgrounds, between them covering classical and Baroque music as well as contemporary compositions and traditional folk.
“For the moment, I’m playing music and enjoying it, finding some very interesting collaborations and some very stimulating projects,” Chartrand said.
Like his work with multi-instrumentalist Babineau. The young musicians released their first album, “Gigues à deux faces” in May, touring with the music to the western Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as Europe and the United States. They’ll take a modified version of that show to Bethesda on Sunday—and they’re looking forward to it.
“Pierre will be part of that Revels show in December, but now, we’re coming with him,” said Chartrand. “We’ll perform and incorporate some of the step dancing to showcase Pierre; then Pierre will call and explain the dances and we’ll play.”
In Quebec, he observed, “there’s that long-lasting tradition of playing for dances and the dancers are looking for something specific and different, so the techniques we use for dances are different. We need to focus on rhythm, have fun with the melody, be very energetic. We need to give dancers the urge to dance; it’s very different from giving a concert. Without anyone dancing, that inspires us to do different things.
“The violin is a common instrument around the world,” Chartrand pointed out. “What changes is how we use it.”
And the stories they attach to it. Pierre Chartrand has a lifetime’s worth of folktales, some imported from France and adapted to the Canadian landscape and climate. He attaches meaning to the steps of each dance and even to the names that are used—like “contra dance,” which, he explained, comes from the French adaptation of the English “country dance.”
His stories make the Canadian winter leap to life, his dances embellish the stories with a thrilling physicality and his calling invites audiences to share in the energy of the evening. That sequence of listening, learning and leaping onto the dance floor is what, according to Lewis, makes this unique event the perfect addition to the Washington Revels repertoire.
“It becomes this sort of integrated experience that is typical of what Revels is about,” the Revels emcee said. “Partly people observing the professionals who are performing, partially participating in that performance—and then this larger participation exercise.
“In the end, it’s a community coming together,” he added. “That community for us includes the audience; we break the fourth wall. It’s not a performance that people are seeing onstage; it’s a community celebration of which they are a part.
Washington Revels presents a Québécois Concert & “Kitchen” Dance from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15 at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda. Tickets are $20; $15 for ages 18 and younger, with a $5 discount per ticket for FSGW members (plus a $1 service fee). Purchase tickets at revelsdc.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.