Post-Show Discussion: Gravel, Vigneault on Usually Beauty Fails

Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’Art Gravel Art Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opened April 15th at Theatre Junction. Audience members were invited to a reception following the performance. Gravel and Lucie Vigneault were present and shared some of their thoughts on both the group and the show.

In 2001, Vigneault graduated from the Université du Québec à Montréal with a degree in Contemporary Dance Performance. Since then, Vigneault has danced with numerous companies and choreographers in Montreal. In 2006, Vigneault joined Groupe d’Art Gravel Art Group, or GAG.

Directed by Gravel, another UQUAM graduate, GAG is a “moving team of artists” that includes both musicians and dancers. That is to say, Usually Beauty Fails started with a different set of artists than the one’s who appeared on stage for its most recent run. Introducing new artists to the group is important because it brings new energy to the piece, Gravel explains.

“The piece is not about I created the piece, I wrote the piece and there is truth about it. It’s more like…I led a team of artists to create something. Then, when a new artist comes…the group evolves with whoever is in,” said Gravel. “It’s not just about a new artist to get what is going on and fit in. I choose people who will fit well in this energy with [our artists]. When I find these people, these kind of artists, I know they will fit in, and we will all be inspired by them. They will be inspired by what we are doing.”

With regards to the type of work GAG produces, Vigneault says it is the company’s focus on presence that appeals to her as a dancer.

Dancer Lucie Vigneault, opening night reception for Usually Beauty Fails.

Dancer Lucie Vigneault, Usually Beauty Fails’ opening night reception.

“There is something about the way to be present on stage that is really interesting for me, because we don’t want to be too much ‘representative’ in the performance for the public, but something more directly in the action,” said Vigneault.

Vigneault describes Usually Beauty Fails as a show about relationships and how complicated they can be sometimes. “It’s not easy, these relationships…like you want to do something, but there is always something that is not working.”

For Gravel, the relationship between audience and performer is one that takes considerable navigation.

“I think we are trying to be as live as we can be,” said Gravel. “We are still here, you’re still there with us, living in the moment…I know you are thinking about what is going on. Is it worth the time I am putting in? What does that mean?”

“I’m trying to just not get the audience to be numb. To get involved. Be engaged. To see my strategies, our strategies to be seductive, but still appreciate it and be into it…maybe see what is at stake and not just …“that was the greatest show!” and then forget about it. It has to be engaging. It has to be engaging and still seductive, because it is live performance.”


Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails ran at Theatre Junction, April 15 – 18.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/ubf/

Music and dance performers on stage
David Albert-Toth

Frédérick Gravel
Charles Lavoie
Vincent Legault
Brianna Lombardo
Peter Trosztmer
Lucie Vigneault
Jamie Wright

Dancers at Creation
Kimberley De Jong

Francis Ducharme
Frédérick Gravel
Brianna Lombardo
Frédéric Tavernini
Jamie Wright

Usually Beauty Fails Lands With Mixed Results

Frederick Gravel & GAG's Usually Beauty Fails opened April 18th at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opened April 15th at Theatre Junction GRAND. Photo Credit: Denis Farley.

Loud and assertive, this is the way Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opens. The music holds us down in our seats. The dancers, whose eyes were locked with ours just moments ago, escape into fervid movement.

Blending dance and live music, Usually Beauty Fails is a raw display of human emotion. Parts of it, anyway.

Gravel, the show’s creator, director, and choreographer, is the evening’s leading man. Taking the microphone between dance pieces, he shares his thoughts, which are largely self-deprecating, with the audience about the performance. Gravel’s charm is well received by the audience, albeit for a short while. Eventually, the audience’s laughter shifts from warm to tired and nervous as Gravel’s drawn out, wayward thoughts overstay their welcome.

Gravel’s band (Charles Lavoie, vocals/guitar; Vincent Legault, guitar; Gravel, vocals/guitar) perform a varied arrangement of music that sometimes rocks out loud, then other times goes for a soft, melodic sound. The rock pieces are not particularly interesting. The acoustic pieces, on the other hand, draw us in close with simple, tender lyrics that travel smoothly thanks to Lavoie’s clean vocals.

Likewise, the choreography resonates best in its quieter moments.

There is a moment where two of the dancers stand closely together, undress, and explore each other’s naked bodies. Soft pauses. Gentle touches. Nothing is said, and it does not feel like anything has to be said. In this moment that breathes and takes its time, we are witness to human affection in its purest form.

But then, in the show’s final piece, we are reminded of life as we share it together socially. The dancers change into fancy dress – cocktail dresses and suits. They open bottles of champagne and pour each other plenty (and then some). Besides quick whispers between the dancers, not too much is said. And not too much happens. It is as almost as if the dancers have slipped into disguises, masks; pretenses. The dancers look at each other from afar as though wanting to say something, but choosing not to. What keeps them from doing so? Whatever it is, the champagne eventually causes the dancers to throw caution to the wind.

These impactful moments are scarce, stuffed away in favor of presenting something big and loud. Something so big, in fact, that at one point the stage lights flash so hard that the audience has trouble keeping their eyes on the stage. It is then that point that one ask themselves whether this is a dance show, a rock show, or an uneven effort in trying to accomplish both at the same time.

The show’s main problem, though, is that Gravel seems more interested in speaking about the work than allowing the work to speak for itself. It is too bad considering that the work does at times succeed in stirring something intimately profound within us. Not to mention also that Gravel’s dancers, who move with vigor, feel terribly underused.

Presented by Theatre Junction, Usually Beauty Fails’ integration of live music and dance is mixed at best, resulting in a show that sometimes grabs our attention, but mainly pushes us away.


Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails ran at Theatre Junction, April 15 – 18.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/ubf/

Music and dance performers on stage
David Albert-Toth

Frédérick Gravel
Charles Lavoie
Vincent Legault
Brianna Lombardo
Peter Trosztmer
Lucie Vigneault
Jamie Wright