Jacques Poulin-Denis | Grand Poney

We danced, breathless, in the subway

In this installation, choreographer Jacques Poulin-Denis takes over the Place-des-Arts subway station in Montreal, questioning our relationship to mobility and urban transportation. Students at the École de danse contemporaine de Montréal dance to the rhythm of a treadmill, their movement synchronised with that of the subway trains. This irrevocably urban artwork is both joyful and eccentric, attracting fascinated bystanders.



February 21, the middle of winter. Athletic, sulky teenagers spring into the corridors of the Place-des-Arts station wearing white-striped black sport pants and light-coloured shirts. They don’t feel the cold and soon, neither will we. For three hours, we are treated to a celebration of the city and of movement as they dance on a treadmill that starts and stops, their motions attuned to the subway trains underneath. Those of us who happen to be passing by in our rush to cook supper or pick up the kids have stopped. We are transfixed and fascinated, swaying to the electronic beat of a soundtrack that shouts, slows down, speeds up, bellows and waltzes to the whims of the composer and choreographer, the witty elf and playful brown-haired Tintin, Jacques Poulin-Denis. He imagines a subway that runs along the entire island with stations everywhere from Pointe-Claire to Rivière-des-Prairies, a dream we thought impossible in the '80s. A voice says:

Next stations: Roxboro-Pierrefonds, Ville Mont-Royal, Beaconsfield and Pointe-Claire. Transfers to the Bright Orange, Brown, Gray, Pistachio Green and Purple Polka Dot lines. Connections to trains on the Flower line, Striped line, Safari line, Fluorescent line, as well as the Rainbow, Gold, Chocolate-coloured and Bright Pink lines.

A series of dancers on a treadmill. One dancer, out of breath, runs with flowers he will never deliver. A beautiful bald girl is wracked by nervous tics. A man in a hip hop trance dances to the chants of a voice naming imaginary stations and to the encouragements of a group of dancers gathered at the edge of the treadmill. Two dancers twist and bend around each other, and then she slips from his grasp, her unspoken anger barely concealed. Dancers cross paths, avoiding and ignoring each other or pretending they haven’t noticed, just as all commuters do. After all, the best way to deal with the lack of privacy on a subway train is to avoid eye contact.

Spectators flock to the camera, explaining how they identify with the dancers and sharing insights into their daily commute, revealing the poetry of a seemingly alienating experience.

Daniel Canty’s text oscillates between sound and movement, evoking every meaning of the word transport as his fantasies unfold. He dreams of an “unbreakable bubble” that could sail across the Lachine rapids, of an airboat gliding along the Canal, of cable cars swaying above Kahnawake, and of a “subway large enough for abandoned stations to exist”.

The extraordinary resides in the banality of an ordinary subway ride,  and we see how daily routines can suddenly reveal their underlining whimsy, folly and fantasy.

Last stop. Thank you for travelling with Waltz.

says the voice.
It’s over.
They’re out of breath.
Thank you for the waltz.



While Jacques Poulin-Denis’ performers dance on a treadmill, redefining urban transport, we hear a desperate plea, an imperative order broadcast over the subway sound system: “We ask that all travellers please let their thoughts flow freely so as not to delay the future.” (Daniel Canty).

Indeed, let’s not hinder our thoughts. Let’s enable a relentless outpouring of ideas so we may change our lives and our city. Our Montreal is not intimidating. We embrace its imperfections, its rough edges. We nestle into its languor and coolness, a place that hasn’t mummified over the centuries. Neither museum nor cathedral, it has grown without looking at itself in the mirror. It’s a concrete jungle – amusing, immense, unconventional. It’s a mountain, both sombre and exuberant. It’s informal, it’s who we are. Let’s dare to reinvent our city continuously. Let’s demand the tools required to create the fluid, prosperous, bustling, clean air oasis of our dreams.

Let’s commit our city to gentler transportation.


We want fluidity, we want colour. We want more subway stations on the orange and blue lines.

We want clearly indicated white lines on our asphalt roads. We want bus lanes on our main streets (St. Denis, St. Laurent, Papineau, Sherbrooke, St. Urbain) so buses can zoom across the city, mobile, eternal and incandescent – spaceships impervious to traffic and engine exhaust.

As proud bike riders, we want to cycle through the city without fear or fault. We want bike paths in urban centres – areas being overrun by cars.

We want to overcome our selfishness, our desire for isolation, our voluntary ignorance. In the future, we want the 400,000 mass transit users in Greater Montreal to outnumber the million and a half drivers who take their cars to work every morning. We want carpooling to flourish, as well as electric cars and parking facilities right next to bus stations.

We want to walk through the city, endlessly, lovingly. We want the sidewalks to widen like flooded rivers.

We want a Mother City that watches over the oldest and least mobile among us. We want transportation that helps them travel through our tamed jungle.

We want our lives to have meaning, to be the purveyors of a better tomorrow, rather than contributing to the demise of our planet. We want every housing development, single-family home or condo to be built next to a bus stop, a subway station, a train station.

We are Montreal.
We want to bring forth the future, today.


Waltz and Mobility

The writer Daniel Canty took part in the creative process, writing texts that were included in the soundtrack accompanying the work.

Les souterrains

Soixante-huit bouches de métro.
Soixante-huit entrées vers le monde souterrain sont distribuées à la surface de

Le monde souterrain où les Anciens reléguaient leurs oublis et leurs ombres.


Dans le métro, des visages et des vies qui s’ignorent se croisent.

Des étrangers se croisent qui, dans l’ordinaire, la répétition des jours, en
oublient parfois où ils sont, tellement cette improbabilité de circuler sous terre
leur est devenue familière.

Tout de même, il y en a qui, dans leur traversée des souterrains, n’oublient
jamais où ils sont.


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Jacques Poulin-Denis | Grand Poney

Jacques Poulin-Denis | Grand Poney

Jacques Poulin-Denis is a composer, choreographer, director and performer. Undertaking projects that blur the boundaries between dance, music and theater, he creates humanistic and uncanny works that are both sensorial and thought-provoking. To gently knock the spectator off center, he puts forth the strength within the vulnerability of the characters he brings to life. Counting over twelve different productions, Jacques Poulin-Denis’ work has been seen in over twenty cities across Canada, as well as in the United States, Europe and Asia. An associated artist of La Chapelle Theater in Montreal since 2012, he was awarded a two-month residency in Berlin during the Tanz Im August Festival, as well as several choreographic research periods in Montreal, Victoria, Vancouver, Bassano and Seoul. He develops an interdisciplinary approach to creation, which he regularly teaches through workshops and master classes. He is a close collaborator of choreographer Mélanie Demers and has been active with her company, MAYDAY, as a composer and performer since 2006. Jacques Poulin-Denis is the winner of an Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, San Francisco in 2004 and a Saskatoon Area Theater Award in 2009.


Co-production and co-diffusion

Tangente and LA SERRE — arts vivants
LA SERRE – arts vivants
Grand Poney


The École de danse contemporaine de Montréal 
Société de Transport de Montréal

Credits for the piece

Creation Jacques Poulin-Denis
Electronics Design Samuel St-Aubin
Performers Nicolas Boivin, Charles Brecard, Laurent Chalifour, Matéo Chauchat, Justine Chevalier-Martineau, Sara Cousineau, Julian Czenze, Jessica Dupont-Roux, Roxanne Dupuis, José Flores, Cyndie Forget Gravel, Maïka Giasson, Gina Grant, Chloe Hart, Julien Mercille Barrette, Danny Morissette, Brontë Poiré-Prest, Emma Simon, Camille Trudel-Vigeant, Émilie Wilson, Luis Alberto Cabanzo, Margaux Dorsaz and Susannah Haight from the École de danse contemporaine de Montréal
Dance Consultant Jean-François Légaré
Text Daniel Canty
Costumes Julie Espinasse, Marilène Bastien
Set Construction Omnifab, L’autre Atelier
Administration Stéphanie Murphy (Diagramme gestion culturelle)


Director and Editor Joël Morin-Ben Abdallah;
Camera Isabelle Stachtchenko, Charlie Marois, Joel Morin-Ben Abdallah;
Sound Sophie Bédard Marcotte, Joel Morin-Ben Abdallah;
Filming was made possible thanks to the equipment provided by ON EST 10, solidarity co-op


Event Vivien Gaumand
Portrait Dominique Skoltz

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