because the personal is cultural
You can’t earnestly name a show Oh! Canada. Luckily, it’s the latest creation by The Choreographers (Audrée Juteau, Thea Patterson, Peter Trosztmer, Katie Ward) and, between the four of them, they share a great sense of humour. As one might guess, Oh! Canada is a mish-mash of Canadiana and, while the artists should be taken seriously, they prove that nationalism shouldn’t be.
From the beginning, they set the tone as they all wear cardboard masks of a blank man’s face made from fat straight black lines. It’s hard to take them seriously, though the square holes that allow them to see make the cardboard look like the goalie mask that Jason wears in Friday the 13th. Creepy. On the other hand, if you stack them up on top of one another, they turn the dancers into a totem. More appropriate for the theme at hand.
Trosztmer provides a history of Canada in a few minutes, really a string of Canadian clichés that highlights how inevitably ridiculous any attempt to offer a basis for a cohesive national identity is bond to be. It also includes a Terry Fox joke, a funny one at that, and any show that manages that feat deserves some kind of recognition.
On the dance side, the highlight is the Trosztmer-Juteau duo that capitalizes on the former’s strength and the latter’s small size. Juteau moves around Trosztmer like an orbit around a planet. This is not to say that she lets herself be dominated; she’s feisty and can definitely put up a fight. “If you touch my hat, I’ll kill you,” she tells Trosztmer, before running after him around the stage in an effort to hit him with it.
More à propos is Juteau’s short but repetitive speech about Louis Riel, the humour of which hinges on her thick French Québécois accent. “Louis Riel is a murder,” she says. Does she mean “murderer”? “Not a murder… A martyr!” The difference between the two words is less obvious than one might think. For their part, Patterson and especially Ward capitalize on their deadpan.
With so many creators, it’s not surprising that the show ends with the difficulty of making a decision as a group. Especially when suggestions range between singing a song, planting a garden, or starting a bank. And maybe that’s the point. If four people can’t agree on one thing, how can we expect 34 million Canadians to form but a single national identity?
As is often the case for dance shows that use text, the relationship between the movement (here quite earnest) and the words (tongue-in-cheek) remains obscure. Inevitably, the text appears as an attempt to popularize dance by adding a more readily “understandable” element, and this even though it doesn’t explain the dance itself. Still, The Choreographers have put together a certain crowd-pleaser.
Follow The Choreographers at www.thechoreographers.ca as I hear they will perform Oh! Canada again in September.
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