Montreal dance web-series Messis explores personal sacrifice for a digital world

Messis mixes dance, music, visual and media arts, sculpture, interactive technologies, 3D design and augmented reality.

The year is 2036 and a woman named Roan (played by Gabrielle Roy) is staring out of the window in her room, a pod connected to a series of other rooms that make up a building reminiscent of Montreal’s Habitat 67. There are other humans around but they are unable to be in physical contact with one another due to waves of pandemic diseases. The only way they can connect is by “sacrificing” their physical bodies to an entity called Touch, a gatekeeper for the Metaverse.  

This is a very brief summary of a new interactive three-part web series called Messis, which mixes dance, music, visual and media arts, sculpture, interactive technologies, 3D design and augmented reality. 

The project was developed by Montreal’s Van Grimde Corps Secrets, an artistic creation company whose works are centered on an in-depth reflection on the human body, from the past to the future.


The head artistic director/founder of Van Grimde Corps Secrets, Isabelle Van Grimde, worked with the three creative partners: composer Thom Gossage, producer-director Robert Desroches of DAVAI (a global creative content creator in Montreal and Paris) and visual and media artist Marilène Oliver — whose real-life sculpture piece, “Fallen,” is the inspiration for the Touch entity in the web series.

The initial idea for Messis came from Van Grimde’s pandemic interviews with anthropologists, art historians, neuroscientists, and other professionals that have gravitated around the company for 10-15 years.

“I wanted to have their thoughts on what was going on and what was created by the pandemic in their fields,” she says. “The whole digital subject has been very much a part of what the company has been creating since 2008 and those conversations started this new cycle of creation.”

The actual web series is only about 15 minutes in total, but viewers can get a behind the scenes look of creation process by diving into interviews, research papers and full dance pieces developed by Van Grimde.

Gossage’s score, which makes up the musical backdrop for Messis, is also highly inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral concert work The Rite of Spring, and the narrative story for Messis is as well.

The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky celebrates, through pagan rituals, the connection of the body to the Earth and the story is very much rooted in sacrifice in order to see better days,” Van Grimde says. “In this case, to symbolize the possible return to a post-pandemic world where the physical body is a vehicle for human connection in the Metaverse.”

Dance also plays a huge part in Messis. These personal sacrifices of the character’s physical bodies to enter the Metaverse are portrayed as almost violent and primal dance movements, choreographed by Van Grimde — especially during the climax of part three. 

“This form of dance has been rooted in the work of the company for a number of years. I’ve been working on the primal body vs the future body, talking with specialists of the body around the world,” she says. “This primitive body is connected to the reptilian brain, and our survival body is what dictates all of our impulses, so that’s what you are seeing in the Messis dances.”


The Messis project does take a somewhat bleak outlook on the Metaverse and our connection with it. At times, the web series feels very dystopic — similar to an episode of The Black Mirror or the film Ex Machina — and the title “Messis” is the latin for the word “harvest,” a reference to the data harvest of our personal lives in order to connect with the Metaverse. 

“The scenario is dark, but it’s also meant to be critical of what the Metaverse could be,” Van Grimde says. “It doesn’t have to be controlled by the tech giants or completely commercial or a video game. We need to decide what kind of world we need to create.”

This is the first part of Van Grimde’s current artistic cycle. She is excited to explore a connection to Messis with an installation and performance in Montreal sometime in 2024.

“It will be completely interactive and it will be able to be visited,” she says. “We are working with scientists who work with artificial intelligence so we can feed images and music to the AI to create an installation and performance that explores deep learning. It won’t be as dark.” ■

For more on Messis and to watch the episodes, please visit the series’ website.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.