because the personal is cultural
Here, the performers still create characters, but the world never follows suit. Instead, as can be seen in their insistence on facing the audience, they are merely performing for us. With the loud buzzer that periodically interrupts their performance, they appear like contestants on a reality TV show pathetically vying for our attention.
The show relies on excess (seven performers are onstage for the entire eighty minutes) but, rather than helping in making a particular environment emerge, this merely leads to distraction. Our eyes travel from one to another, noticing that some are merely moving not to be still during the main action and that the three cymbal players look the way I do when I hang out at a bar just hoping someone will take me home so I can get the fuck out of there. These musicians become a too easily accessible exit.
At the FTA back in 2008, I’d accused Marie Chouinard’s obnoxious Orphée et Eurydice of suffering from Middle Child Syndrome. I could say the same of De marfim e carne, which is funny because Freitas cites the myth of Orpheus as an inspiration in the program. Perhaps the artistically gifted Orpheus is ironically performance kryptonite. Maybe those who killed him could hear his so-called divine music after all.
During the show, I also thought about Nicolas Cantin. Last week, I saw his Philippines at the OFFTA. Cantin is definitely not for everyone, but artistically I admire his work, which seems perpetually concerned with figuring out what’s the least that one can do on a stage. I sometimes find myself wishing some shows, De marfim e carne being a perfect example, were doing less.
With its constant “let me entertain you” attitude, it sometimes seems like the show is striving to be a critique of the vacuity of entertainment culture. 1) Yes. 2) And…? 3) Where’s the critique? Because, with its lack of bite, De marfim e carne doesn’t seem to critique so much as to be complacent about the vapidity of entertainment. If anything, it capitalizes on it. It is the artistic equivalent of overconsumption.
Yet, when the dancers come back for an encore, i.e. the worst concert ritual, it seems like they must know they’re acting like the worst. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
June 3 & 4 at 8pm
Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle
Tickets: 39$ / 30 years old and under: 33$
“Shake that ass” began my review of Ann Van den Broek’s Co(te)lette, and so could begin my review of Marlene Monteiro Freitas’s Paraíso – Colecção privada. Except there is a notable difference between the two works: in Co(te)lette, it was three women shaking their ass; in Paraíso, it’s three men.
Also, while the gaze of men could be felt everywhere in Co(te)lette, they were nowhere to be found onstage. In Paraíso, the opposite gender finds embodiment in Freitas herself, who appears as a gothic mistress of ceremony with organ music at her disposal. She wears a black cactus-like helmet that is potentially inspired by spiders and her top comes with matador-like shoulder pads.
For their part, the four men that join her are shirtless. Otherwise, some show the physical characteristics of particularly virile animals, like the tail of a horse or the horns of a ram. However, wild they are not. They are her beasts and they are most well trained, doing whatever she demands on command. Movements of her arms are scored by little bells, turning her creatures into Pavlov’s dogs.
While their shell is butch, their behaviour is otherwise. Their dance is spastic, nervous. They look like battery-operated toy dogs, their movement jerky, like they’ve been emptied out of their soul and are now more akin to robots. When in a particularly S&M section Freitas jams a harmonica in one man’s mouth, the other’s wide doe eyes reveal that each fears the same fate.
The horse-like man uses his hands to mimic wings on his back and a horn in the middle of his forehead, turning himself into a cross between a unicorn and a Pegasus. To satisfy their mistress’s desires, they must be able to change on a dime. There is something clown-like in the way all the performers act, if clowns weren’t the worst thing in the world.
One man moves his pecs to the music. She rewards her pets with food (peanuts?)… though not always. When they take a break, Freitas feasts on a chicken and even offers some to a few audience members, but none to her male dancers.
Her power extends beyond the stage as she orders the sound person to raise the volume or stop the music. She even targets coughing audience members by turning her hand into a fist.
Paraíso is a sexist fantasy turned on its head. The question is whose paradise, of course, since (as the subtitle implies) the concept is necessarily private, personal. It’s only ever paradise for who is in power.
The show might be a bit one-note, but it’s a pretty good fucking note. The movement vocabulary is singular and the dancers' commitment to it brings an equally unique world into being.
The four men leave the stage shortly before the end, leaving Freitas to hog the spotlight. I wish the choreographer had carried her premise to its ultimate end by being the only one to come back out to take a bow.
June 4-6 at 9pm
Agora de la danse
514.844.3822 / 514.842.2112
Tickets: 38$ / 30 years old and under: 33$
My wish for the Montreal dance scene in 2013 is for Marie-Hélène Falcon to quit her job as artistic director of the Festival TransAmériques. I’m hoping she’ll become the director of a theatre so that the most memorable shows will be spread more evenly throughout the year instead of being all bunched up together in a few weeks at the end of spring. With that being said, here are the ten works that still resonated with me as 2012 came to an end.
1. Cesena, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker + Björn Schmelzer (Festival TransAmériques)
I’ve been thinking about utopias a lot this year. I’ve come to the conclusion that – since one man’s utopia is another’s dystopia – they can only be small in nature: one person or, if one is lucky, maybe two. With Cesena, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker showed me that it could be done with as many as nineteen people, if only for two hours, if only in a space as big as a stage. Dancers and singers all danced and sang, independently of their presupposed roles, and sacrificed the ego’s strive for perfection for something better: the beauty of being in all its humanly imperfect manifestations. They supported each other (even more spiritually than physically) when they needed to and allowed each other the space to be individuals when a soul needed to speak itself.
2. Sideways Rain, Guilherme Botelho (Festival TransAmériques)
I often speak of full commitment to one’s artistic ambitions as extrapolated from a clear and precise concept carried out to its own end. Nowhere was this more visible this year than in Botelho’s Sideways Rain, a show for which fourteen dancers (most) always moved from stage left to stage right in a never-ending loop of forward motion. More than a mere exercise, the choreography veered into the metaphorical, highlighting both the perpetual motion and ephemeral nature of human life, without forgetting the trace it inevitably leaves behind, even in that which is most inanimate. More importantly, it left an unusual trace in the body of the audience too, making it hard to even walk after the show.
3. (M)IMOSA: Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M), Cecilia Bengolea + François Chaignaud + Trajal Harrell + Marlene Monteiro Freitas (Festival TransAmériques)
By mixing post-modern dance with queer performance, the four choreographer-dancers of (M)IMOSA offered a show that refreshingly flipped the bird to the usual conventions of the theatre. Instead of demanding silence and attention, they left all the house lights on and would even walk in the aisles during the show, looking for their accessories between or underneath audience members. Swaying between all-eyes-on-me performance and dancing without even really trying, as if they were alone in their bedroom, they showed that sometimes the best way to dramatize the space is by rejecting the sanctity of theatre altogether.
4. Goodbye, Mélanie Demers (Festival TransAmériques)
Every time I think about Demers’s Goodbye (and it’s quite often), it’s always in conjunction with David Lynch’s Inland Empire. The two have a different feel, for sure, but they also do something quite similar. In Inland Empire, at times, an actor will perform an emotional scene, and Lynch will then reveal a camera filming them, as if to say, “It’s just a movie.” Similarly, in Goodbye, dancer Jacques Poulin-Denis can very well say, “This is not the show,” it still doesn’t prevent the audience from experiencing affect. Both works show the triviality of the concept of suspension of disbelief, that art does not affect us in spite of its artificiality, but because of it.
5. The Parcel Project, Jody Hegel + Jana Jevtovic (Usine C)
One of the most satisfying days of dance I’ve had all year came as a bit of a surprise. Five young choreographers presented the result of their work after but a few weeks of residencies at Usine C. I caught three of the four works, all more invigorating than some of the excessively polished shows that some choreographers spend years on. It showed how much Montreal needs a venue for choreographers to experiment rather than just offer them a window once their work has been anesthetically packaged. The most memorable for me remains Hegel & Jevtovic’s The Parcel Project, which began with a surprisingly dynamic and humorous 20-minute lecture. The second half was an improvised dance performance, set to an arbitrarily selected pop record, which ended when the album was over, 34 minutes later. It was as if John Cage had decided to do dance instead of music. Despite its explanatory opening lecture, The Parcel Project was as hermetic as it was fascinating.
6. Spin, Rebecca Halls (Tangente)
Halls took her hoop dancing to such a degree that she exceeded the obsession of the whirling dervish that was included in the same program as her, and carried it out to its inevitable end: exhaustion.
7. Untitled Conscious Project, Andrew Tay (Usine C)
Also part of the residencies at Usine C, Tay produced some of his most mature work to date, without ever sacrificing his playfulness.
8. 1001/train/flower/night, Sarah Chase (Agora de la danse)
Always, forever, Sarah Chase, the most charming choreographer in Canada, finding the most unlikely links between performers. She manages to make her “I have to take three boats to get to the island where I live in BC” and her “my dance studio is the beach in front of my house” spirit emerge even in the middle of the city.
9. Dark Sea, Dorian Nuskind-Oder + Simon Grenier-Poirier (Wants & Needs Danse/Studio 303)
Choreographer Nuskind-Oder and her partner-in-crime Grenier-Poirier always manage to create everyday magic with simple means, orchestrating works that are as lovely as they are visually arresting.
10. Hora, Ohad Naharin (Danse Danse)
A modern décor. The legs of classical ballet and the upper body of post-modern dance, synthesized by the athletic bodies of the performers of Batsheva. These clear constraints were able to give a coherent shape to Hora, one of Naharin’s most abstract works to date.
Scrooge Moment of the Year
Kiss & Cry, Michèle Anne De Mey + Jaco Van Dormael (Usine C)
Speaking of excessively polished shows… La Presse, CIBL, Nightlife, Le Devoir, and everyone else seemingly loved Kiss & Cry. Everyone except me. To me, it felt like a block of butter dipped in sugar, deep fried, and served with an excessive dose of table syrup; not so much sweet as nauseating. It proved that there’s no point in having great means if you have nothing great to say. Cinema quickly ruined itself as an art form; now it apparently set out to ruin dance too. And I’m telling you this so that, if Kiss & Cry left you feeling dead on the inside, you’ll know you’re not alone.
C’est bien d’avoir un groupe d’adolescentes dans un spectacle de danse. On peut souvent se fier à leurs réactions pour savoir si quelque chose d’intéressant se passe. Si elles se regardent constamment pour savoir comment elles devraient réagir (car on sait que, lorsqu’on est adolescent, les réactions individuelles sont interdites), c’est bon signe. C’est bien l’art qui laisse perplexe, face auquel même notre réaction ne peut être simpliste.
C’est ce qui s’est passé lors de la représentation de (M)IMOSA: Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M) en cette deuxième journée du Festival TransAmériques. Ce n’est peut-être pas surprenant étant donné que, comme le sous-titre l’indique, le chorégraphe new-yorkais Trajal Harrell croise la culture queer avec la vision démocratique du mouvement des chorégraphes postmodernes.
Et il n’est pas le seul chorégraphe-interprète. Il y en a trois de plus, rassemblant aussi Paris et Lisbonne : Cecilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud et Marlene Monteiro Freitas. On pourrait avoir peur que ce soit chaotique, et ce l’est, mais non pas à cause du nombre de chorégraphes, mais bien dû à l’esthétique postmoderne. Ironiquement, c’est aussi celle-ci qui permet au spectacle de faire preuve de cohésion.
Le courant postmoderne a donné de la fraicheur à la danse. (« Ça respire, » j’ai écrit dans mes notes.) Il y a quelque chose de libérateur lorsque les gens cessent de se soucier du beau, du sexy. Ça fait du bien être laid ou ridicule de temps en temps.
On retrouve dans (M)IMOSA le mouvement au quotidien, comme si les interprètes ne faisaient que danser dans leur chambre à coucher en chantant leur chanson du moment, sans trop se forcer, et que nous avions la chance de les espionner. D’un autre côté, il y a la performance « all eyes on me » des voguers et drag queens et kings. On peut d’abord se rappeler Spoken Word/Body de Martin Bélanger, et ensuite Pow Wow de Dany Desjardins, mais (M)IMOSA réussit mieux la transition au théâtre.
Peut-être que la relation avec le public en est la raison. Les lumières continuent d’éclairer les spectateurs durant la pièce, comme pour nous faire sentir qu’on fait partie intégrale du spectacle. On fait fi de la religiosité conventionnelle de la performance théâtrale, et c’est ce qui finit par théâtraliser le tout. Les interprètes se promènent parmi le public et cherchent leurs accessoires dans les rangées sans se soucier du bruit qu’ils font.
Il y a aussi quelque chose de rafraichissant à voir des interprètes de talent refuser la virtuosité, en faire moins qu’ils en sont clairement capables. Le talent se laisse alors deviner ici et là, et il n’en ait que plus réjouissant. En tout cas, leur confusion initiale passée, les adolescentes ont eu l’air de vraiment tripper.
25-26 mai à 21h
514.844.3822 / 1.866.984.3822
Billets à partir de 35$
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com